Udonis Haslem speaks proudly of his “DNA,” which in this case refers not to the genetic coding inside his 6-foot-8 body, but the standards that he’s grown accustomed to as a member of the Miami Heat, his hometown team -- and the only team he’s played for during his 13-year NBA career.
Haslem has earned most everything the hard way, after going undrafted in 2003, despite helping lead the University of Florida to the Final Four as a sophomore. Haslem famously dropped 70 pounds he gained in school and in one year playing in France to gain the Heat’s interest, and he’s been a roster fixture ever since. He’s now into a fifth iteration of the Heat’s foundation (the young guys version with Dwyane Wade and Lamar Odom, when Haslem was an All-Rookie second teamer in 2004; the Shaquille O'Neal-Wade championship team of 2016; the Waiting for LeBron James years; the SuperFriends years of James, Wade and Chris Bosh).
At every turn, Miami has figured out a way to keep the now 36-year-old Haslem on the roster. Now, Haslem is vying to be a fixture in Miami well after his retirement. Haslem began franchising restaurants in the area in 2013, and has kept at it over the years. He announced last month that he would be running four more restaurants at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami that he says will create 120 jobs for low-income residents in the neighborhood. Like everyone else, he was stunned when Wade left for Chicago, leaving him alone as the longest-tenured member of the team.
Now, it’s Haslem’s voice alone insisting on doing everything right without skipping steps. And, when they’re done, they can now go get a foot-long at one of his spots.
Me: How did you decide to house your businesses not just in Miami, but specifically in Liberty City and in the neighborhoods where you grew up?
Udonis Haslem: Being at home, playing for the Miami Heat all my life, it’s just like I’ve got so much family that needs help. Obviously, being younger, you’re naïve and you think, okay, I’ll give them some money. It doesn’t work like that. You’re crippling them. You’re not helping them. You’re not empowering them. So I got the point in my career and in my life where I was like, how can I empower my people? How can I help them and not cripple them? That’s when I started putting myself in position to provide jobs for people. It started with my Subways, and it just started with family, and then it grew to just people in my neighborhood I grew up around, and people I went to high school with, and whatever, just helping the inner city and underprivileged people.
Me: Are these franchises? I don’t know how that works.
UH: Franchises. Starbucks, Einstein (Bagels), Subways, Entenmann’s, and I have a couple more franchises that we’re bringing down to South Florida -- 800 Degrees, which is a high end Italian pizza spot. It’s in L.A., Chicago, Dubai, Japan and Vegas, and we’re bringing that concept to Miami. That’s something that me and Dwyane are partnering on.
Me: The idea of helping people in the community ... I know you want to do what you can, but this is your business now, too. How do you get people the skills they’ll need to be able to work for you?
UH: Great people around us. Great people around me. My business partner, Ramona Hall, has been in the franchising business for a long time. And my financial business, my financial advisor, Sylvester King, has been with me from day one, and I trust him. And now he’s just specifically working with me. Before he was just a financial advisor and they were working with a lot of guys ... Andre Johnson from the (Houston) Texans, a lot of guys. Now he’s working, personally, just with me.
Me: So, what’s the plan? I think I saw 120 jobs?
UH: Yeah. That’s just two stores. I have two more Starbucks and two more Einstein’s coming in 2017. There’s an All Aboard Florida project that’s going to be building a train station that goes from Miami to West Palm to Orlando. It’s going to be a bullet train. That train station is going to be built in downtown Miami, right next to the soccer stadium that’s going to be built for David Beckham. So I’ll have two franchises in there, too, that’s going to provide more jobs.
Me: Where did this entrepreneurial passion come from?
UH: When I was hurt in the playoffs (2010), the year we played Chicago, I spent all year out. I came back for that Chicago series. I just had a lot of time to think. The injury I had was so specific, which was the Lisfranc injury. I had never heard of it. I had never seen it. And I started to research it. It wasn’t good. I didn’t know if I’d be back. And so I just had to start thinking.
Me: I’m sure you talked with Caron Butler about this?
UH: Yeah. Definitely. I had extensive conversations with Caron about it. I played with Caron one year and I had a chance to sit down and talk to him this summer.
Me: And he works with Junior Bridgeman. Will you try to do the same?
UH: I may. I know LeBron has done some stuff with Junior. I’m going to try to make that connection. But I’ve actually been studying Junior’s story and footprint, and I’m trying to follow in those footsteps, some of the things that he’s doing.
Me: This seems especially relevant now, with what Colin Kaepernick did and all of the discussion that NBA players are having about helping their communities in real ways. Was doing something, taking the next step, part of your thought process with these businesses?
UH: Yeah, it got to that. Really, it was just about my inner circle, and my family and friends, and then it just grew, impacting people I don’t know, might not get a chance to meet, and different things like that. Like I said, my team that I have around me, they’ve been amazing. They’ve empowered me. We empower each other in so many different ways. I know so much (now) about the franchising business, things I never thought I’d know. I know how to pick a franchise -- where would you like to pick a franchise, what type of people would you like to hire? We partner with the city of Miami. They’re actually training about 50 people on our staff for us, so we don’t have to pay that. Once they finish the training, then they come over to us. I’m working with (Miami City Council) Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who’s also from Liberty City, my area. It’s just getting bigger and bigger. It’s grown.
Me: Do you accept the fact that city neighborhoods change over the years, and that you want to keep a footprint in yours after you’re done playing?
UH: Yeah, I do. And I think about 20 years from now. Some of these places have 20-year leases. I don’t know where I’ll be 20 years from now. But I know that’ll live on. I know I can still help people, even if I’m not around. God knows what my situation may be, but I know 20 years from now I’ll still be able to impact people, and help people.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Candace Parker is the man!!!!— Evan Turner (@thekidet) October 21, 2016
Blazers forward Evan Turner (@thekidet), Thursday, 9:55 p.m., while watching Parker’s L.A. Sparks win the WNBA championship on the road in Game 5’s controversial win over the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. Yes, we get what Turner meant; don’t think he meant any disrespect.
THEY SAID IT
“We had our own cliques that we hung with on the road. Russell had his guys, I had mine. It was never a bad thing. Just how it was."
-- Kevin Durant, in the cover story for Rolling Stone this month, on how he and Russell Westbrook got along while with the Thunder, but weren’t particularly close off the floor.
“Am I a diva? I don’t call it that. My will to win rubs people the wrong way sometimes. I can blame it on that, but won’t apologize for it. Never will. As far as that talk goes, I don’t care. I’m going to keep working and if people don’t like it, people want to say what they want to say, that’s fine. I know, and I think these guys know, where my heart is and how I want to do right by everybody.’’
-- Jimmy Butler, to the Chicago SunTimes, on how his attitude in the last couple of years may have angered veterans on the Bulls. The article asserts Butler’s relationship with Derrick Rose deteriorated, as has been reported several times in the last year, and was also a factor in Joakim Noah’s decision to go to the Knicks.
“The article pissed me off for this reason: if you’re going to call somebody a coward, how can you not put your name to that quote? It’s easy to point to someone and call them a coward, but behind a shade or a shield. But why don’t you put your name to it? Then you can call us cowards. That’s fine. You can tell us that. But to call us, to say we played like cowards, and you’re not going to quote the guy who said it? That’s weak to me, man.”
-- Klay Thompson, to local reporters, decrying a line in ESPN.com’s story about the Warriors’ roller-coaster ride last season with Draymond Green. The story quotes an anonymous team official who didn’t actually use the word “cowards”; that was inserted by the author in place of another, presumably worse, word. At issue was the fact that Golden State had to play without Green in Game 5 of the Finals against Cleveland because of accumulated flagrant foul points in the playoffs. The quote read: “the guys might be frustrated by his antics, but they had an opportunity to prove themselves without him in Game 5 and they played like a bunch of [cowards]."
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