By Dylan Barmmer
When talk turns to the HEAT, it is often LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – or the talented trio of NBA All-Stars as a collective unit – who serve as the conversation starters and focal points of discussion.
But if the HEAT had a heartbeat – if you had to pick one player who truly, deeply and naturally personifies not just the fabric and culture of the HEAT organization and its hard-working, gritty core ethos, but also the city of Miami itself – another man's name would rise fast to the forefront:
The HEAT's rugged and reliable rebounding record-holder was born in Miami, bred in Miami and made in Miami. And for the entire duration of his quietly excellent, 10-year NBA career, Haslem has sweat, bled, fought, scraped, scored, rebounded, won in and worn out just one uniform bearing one city's name:
This season, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound Haslem reminded HEAT fans and everyone throughout the NBA universe just how durable, dependable and long-lasting his presence in the HEAT lineup has been over the past decade, averaging 3.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks and shooting 51.4% from the field in 18.9 minutes per game over 75 games. The veteran forward also led all HEAT players in charges taken, and ranked third on the team in rebounding despite clocking in at eighth in playing time. There aren’t official statistics kept for menacing glares and overall intensity, but if there were, Haslem would have been near or at the top of the HEAT’s chart in those categories too.
More importantly, Haslem quietly and selflessly shuttled between starting and reserve roles, taking the floor for the opening tip in 59 games and coming off the HEAT bench in 16 others. Haslem's overall excellence, intelligence, toughness and dogged determination were once again vital to a stellar season for the HEAT – this one a record-setting campaign that saw them win a NBA-best and club-record 66 games, including a remarkable 27 straight, and secure the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason for the first time in HEAT history.
And one regular-season game in particular etched Haslem's name not only in the public consciousness, but into the HEAT record books as well.
In a 113-106 win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 21, 2012, Haslem scored 2 points, snared 2 steals and pulled down 8 rebounds in 18 hard-charging minutes off the HEAT bench. Haslem's second rebound in that game was the 4,808th of his career, moving him past venerated former NBA All-Star and current HEAT executive Alonzo Mourning and into sole possession of the top spot on the HEAT's all-time rebounding list.
Not bad for a player who wasn't even drafted by an NBA team following stellar careers at Miami High and the University of Florida, where he paired with current HEAT teammate Mike Miller to help the Gators reach the Final Four of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
In fact, the accomplishment made Haslem the first undrafted player to lead an NBA franchise in total rebounds. And among the ranks of undrafted players in NBA history, only Ben Wallace and Brad Miller have hauled in more rebounds than Haslem's 5,157.
But while Haslem is best-known for his board work, hard work and dirty work, his scoring ability has long been an asset to the HEAT as well.
Haslem has averaged 8.9 points per game to go along with his 7.7 rebounds in his 669-game NBA career, averaging at least 10.6 points per game in four of his 10 seasons with the HEAT. He’s also hit 49.5% of his field goal attempts, including 50% or better in 5 seasons, and 76.5% from the free throw line. In further proof of just how much Haslem has meant to the HEAT over the past decade, the 669 games played is also a franchise record, just ahead of Wade's 665 games in a HEAT uniform.
Haslem has always possessed intimidating strength and ferocious dunking ability, but over the years, he has worked hard to hone his jump shot, developing an often-lethal mid-range jumper, particularly from the baseline.
And while his 3.9 points-per-game average this season ranks as the lowest of his career (as does his 18.9 minutes-per-game average), Haslem has certainly shown he can still be counted on to put the ball in the basket – especially in situations when the HEAT need to replace the more naturally prolific and pure scoring abilities of James, Wade and Chris Bosh.
Haslem scored 10 or more points in 6 games during the regular season, doing so in 24 minutes or less of playing time on each occasion. His 51.4% field-goal percentage also ranked as his best over the past four seasons, and the third-best mark of his entire career.
But it has been the postseason where Haslem has really reminded HEAT fans of his ability to produce points when needed.
In the recently completed 4-game sweep of the Bucks in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Haslem started at power forward and averaged 7.5 points in just 17.0 minutes, scoring 25 points in 36 minutes of action in Games 3 and 4.
Haslem, who also averaged 4.8 rebounds, 0.5 blocks and 0.3 steals in that series, shot a sizzling 61.9% from the floor against the Bucks, including 73.3% (11 of 15) in those final 2 games. That 61.9% mark is third behind only fellow forward Chris Andersen (81.3%) and the incomparable James (62.7%), and the scoring and rebounding averages are sixth and fifth, respectively.
In Game 3, with the HEAT heading into a hostile and charged environment in Milwaukee after winning the first 2 games at AmericanAirlines Arena, Haslem scored 12 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and snared 1 steal in 16 productive minutes. He hit 5 of 6 shots from the field and 2 of 2 free throws, helping the HEAT post a convincing 104-91 win and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Haslem was even more impressive and influential in Game 4, a gritty 88-77 HEAT win that ended the Bucks' season in Milwaukee and put the HEAT through to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with time to prepare for their next opponent. With Wade held out of action to rest his bruised right knee, Haslem upped his offensive attack in support of James and Bosh, taking 9 shots and connecting on 6 – along with 1 of 2 free-throw attempts – to finish with a playoff-high 13 points in just 19 minutes of action. Haslem scored 9 of those 13 points in the pivotal third quarter, netting 9 of 11 for the HEAT during a late stretch before James closed out the quarter by scoring the HEAT's final 9 points. James (11 points) and Haslem combined to score 20 of the HEAT's 22 points in the third, and they took a 67-62 lead into the fourth quarter, where they soon broke the game open with a 19-5 run that grew their lead to 88-72 with 2:41 left to play.
Haslem finished third in scoring for the HEAT behind James (game-high 30 points) and the red-hot Ray Allen (16 points off bench) in that closeout game, adding 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in his 19 live-wire minutes. It all added up to a gutty victory on a night when Wade sat out and Bosh took only 7 shots and scored 10 points.
Of course, Haslem is no stranger to clutch playoff performances.
He served as a vital cog in the HEAT's NBA Championship runs of 2006 and 2012, averaging 8.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.6 steals and shooting 49.3% from the field in 22 games (all starts) in the franchise's first title-winning postseason and 4.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.6 assists and 0.3 blocks in 22 games (including 11 starts) as the HEAT secured their second NBA title last summer.
Overall, Haslem has appeared in 104 postseason games, making 63 starts. In those 104 playoff games, he’s averaged 6.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks in 25.5 minutes per game, shooting 46.9% from the field and 72.6% from the line.
If any one playoff game personified everything that the proud, passionate, professional Haslem has always meant to and done for the HEAT, it was probably Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers. Playing in front of a loud Indianapolis crowd with the HEAT trailing 2-1 in the series and missing an injured Bosh, Haslem stepped up big-time, stepping into that patented mid-range jumper and draining it 4 times over the game's final 6 minutes. Haslem hit 4 of the HEAT's final 5 field goals in a gutsy 101-93 road win that knotted the series at 2-2, finishing with 14 impactful points and 4 rebounds in 25 minutes. With the HEAT's postseason run in a precarious position against the hungry Pacers and their home crowd, Haslem nailed 5 of 6 shots from the field and all 4 attempts from the line. And he hit all of those clutch jumpers down the stretch with a massive bandage taped above his right eye, after a stray elbow from Pacers forward Lou Amundson had opened a large and bloody gash that required stitches after the game.
Haslem will turn 33 on June 9, and he hopes to be celebrating NBA Championship number 3 with the only team he has ever fought, bled, scored, rebounded, sweated and sacrificed for soon after.
No matter where and how this incredible, electric, historic season ends for the HEAT, one thing is for sure – the heartbeat of the HEAT still wears number 40 across his chiseled chest, and the name "Haslem" across his broad back.