Udonis Haslem’s entire 2021 NBA season took place between two House of Highlights YouTube videos published 11 minutes apart Thursday evening. The first, which appeared at 8:16 p.m. ET, has the title “Udonis Haslem Gets a Standing Ovation From Fans as He Makes His Season Debut vs 76ers | May 13, 2021,” and shows, well, Udonis Haslem getting a nice 44-second ovation from Heat fans as he takes the floor at the 59-second mark of the first quarter of Thursday’s game against the 76ers. The second, somewhat more chaotically capitalized video, published at 8:27 p.m. ET, is titled “Udonis Haslem Gets EJECTED From Game after HEATED SCUFFLE With Dwight Howard | May 13, 2021,” and it shows Haslem’s night coming to an abrupt close at the 10:19 mark of the second quarter of the same game, after just three minutes of action.
The title of the first video sort of undersells the significance of a Haslem sighting in a real NBA game. Heading into Thursday night Haslem had played a grand total of 118 minutes over the last three seasons of what we will charitably refer to as his playing career; he’s appeared in a total of just 14 regular-season games since the end of the 2017-18 season. It would be far, far more accurate to refer to him as a mascot these days than a player. Anžejs Pasečņiks has played more games than Haslem over that stretch. Admiral Schofield has almost double the minutes. G-Wiz is arguably a bigger part of his team’s game plan.
There is no serious basketball reason for keeping Haslem on the Heat roster. He’s been with the team for the entirety of his 18-year NBA career, and hasn’t wanted to hang it up, and the Heat, ostensibly out of loyalty to a Miami native who’s been a part of three championship teams, haven’t wanted to see him finish his career elsewhere. Thus a series of cheap one-year contracts, starting in 2016 and stretching to this, Haslem’s age-40 season. An immobile, paddle-handed 40-year-old dude is simply never going to be all that useful an NBA player, least of all for a team jockeying for playoff positioning, and so Haslem hasn’t so much as sniffed the floor all year, even in this condensed, punishing season. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, acutely aware that this may be Haslem’s final year before retirement, made it clear earlier this month that he would find a way to get the old man on the court at some point prior to the end of the campaign, more for sentimental reasons than for anything having to do with wins and losses.
Thursday’s game was a good bet for satisfying that commitment. You almost always need surplus interior bodies against the 76ers. Joel Embiid leads the NBA in free throw attempts per game by a healthy margin, is as adept as anyone in basketball at creating and selling contact, and has a particular zeal for working the dark arts against fellow big men. Dewayne Dedmon picked up two fouls in his first three minutes of action spelling Bam Adebayo; even facing this crunch Spoelstra held out on inserting Haslem until 76ers coach Doc Rivers pulled Embiid following his own second foul. When Dwight Howard checked in to replace Embiid, old man Haslem rose from the Heat bench and ambled over to the scorer’s table.
It was a glorious appearance, but I really cannot stress enough that it ended less than 15 minutes after that all-caps tweet was published. Before he’d even had time to break a sweat, Haslem took a dish in transition from fellow geezer Andre Iguodala and dumped in his first bucket since the bubbled-up regular season finale before Miami’s push to the Finals at the close of last season. Minutes later, at the opening of the second quarter, Haslem took a pass from Goran Dragic near the baseline and had the gall, the hubris, the ancient muscle memory to rise up and knock down a 16-foot jumper to push the Heat to an 18-point lead. Sweet! Get this guy a shoe deal!
But what will be most cherished by Heat fans and neutral fans alike was Haslem’s spectacular disqualification. Infuriating goof Dwight Howard lightly chucked Haslem in a scramble for positioning during a Furkan Korkmaz bucket, then appeared to point and chirp at Haslem on the way back up the court. Tyler Herro drilled a step-back three, then Dragic fouled Shake Milton on a drive. Immediately following the whistle, Haslem moseyed over to Howard and let him have it. Howard stood his ground, Haslem lost his cool and jammed a finger into Howard’s face, and that was that. Rude, but certainly direct. For his part, Haslem seemed to have no regrets over the fracas, which he referred to as “a whole bunch of disagreeing,” following Miami’s dominant 106-94 win:
Haslem’s final line from Thursday night records 2:40 of run, four points on two shots, one rebound, one charge taken, two technicals, and a disqualification. Had it been anyone other than Haslem, and had he been jabbing his finger in anyone but Dwight Howard’s face, you might shake your head at a guy blowing what easily could be his final NBA appearance on a temper tantrum. But that’s who Haslem has always been to the Heat: the guy who would get in anyone’s face, at any time, to stick up for himself or his teammates. If he had just let Howard talking shit roll off his back out of some sense of decorum? Well now that would have been a waste.