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The Miami Heat are paying a 43-year-old veteran $2.9 million to sit on the bench in the NBA Finals, and players love it

Cork Gaines   

The Miami Heat are paying a 43-year-old veteran $2.9 million to sit on the bench in the NBA Finals, and players love it
  • Udonis Haslem is set to retire after this season at 43 years old and after 20 seasons with the Heat.
  • Despite his lack of playing time, the veteran big man plays a huge role as a mentor and leader.

Everyone's favorite veteran, mentor, cheerleader, and tough guy is retiring after the season, but not before he spends a little more time helping his Miami Heat teammates in the NBA Finals.

Udonis Haslem, who recently turned 43, announced that he would hang up his sneakers after 20 seasons in the NBA, all with the Miami Heat.

Haslem has become something of an NBA legend; he played in just 65 regular-season games in the past seven seasons, and each of those years, the Heat kept re-signing him to one-year contracts, according to Spotrac. This season, he made $2.9 million, bringing his estimated career earnings to $71 million.

It would be natural to question why the Heat keeps Haslem around; they could give his role and money to a player who contributes more on the court.

However, members of the Heat value Haslem's role as a mentor and a stable locker-room presence more than any contributions they could get from a fringe, developmental NBA prospect.

"Everybody knows in this building, but most importantly in that locker room, the level of impact that he has," the Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters during the 2020-21 season. "That's developing leaders in that locker room and helping teach and cultivate a culture that means something to us."

Spoelstra said Haslem had made lasting impacts on young players and veterans alike.

"I've just enjoyed watching him evolve to this kind of mentorship," he said. "It's felt by the young players, for sure. The young players are going to remember UD for the rest of their entire careers. But the veteran players, to me, he's had just as much of an impact, developing them, keeping them stable, keeping them growing, and continuing to evolve."

NBA teams need veterans like Haslem

The former NBA big man Channing Frye told JJ Redick's podcast, "The Old Man and the Three," in 2021 that teams needed veterans — or "seat belts" — like Haslem.

"You're undervaluing seat belts in a really expensive Ferrari," Frye said. "Nobody ever cares that there's seatbelts in a Ferrari, but Udonis Haslem is the seatbelt — if anything goes wrong, he locks them up."

He added: "He is the guy when Jimmy Butler or Victor Oladipo wants to act crazy; he brings them back into the seat so they're connected and the car and they don't fly off the rails."

Frye said teams needed people who could get into young players' ears "and be like, 'Yo, that's not right.'"

Redick agreed and said the right respected voice could bring a team together.

"I've seen that again and again in my career, where there's a lot of talent, but the pieces don't necessarily fit," Redick said. "The skill sets don't fit, the personalities don't fit. You can go across the league and see where that's happened, and if you don't have that one or two guys to sort of bring everyone together, you're not going to win at the highest level."

The NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett wrote in his book "KG: A to Z" that teams needed to listen to "OGs" — the nickname the Heat player Jimmy Butler calls Haslem.

"This is why you talk to OGs. This is why OGs are in your locker room. This is how you get better. You do better by being around better," Garnett wrote, adding that people "always gotta show respect for the OGs — not just in the NBA but in any business."

In the third game of the NBA Finals, Haslem became the oldest player in NBA history to play in the championship series when he checked in for the final minute after the game was decided.

While Haslem wasn't always an end-of-bench player making money to mentor his teammates, his experience and story resonate with younger players.

"Nobody gave him a shot, nobody gave him anything," the former Miami Heat player Chris Bosh told The Ringer's Andrew Sharp in 2020. "He came in, and he kicked enough ass to earn a spot, and now he's one of the greatest athletes that Florida has ever seen."

Derrick Jones, the former Heat forward who now plays for the Chicago Bulls, told Sharp that Haslem commanded respect through his experience.

"Not even just from a basketball standpoint," he said. "He's taken me under his wing. He owns businesses. Just sitting down and talking to him, seeing his perspective on life, it's helped me out a lot. I'm still a young kid, but you have to have something to do after basketball. Him being able to take time out of his day to help me. It's something I hold dear to my heart."

Scott Davis contributed to this story.

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