A Special Guest

Photo Credit: HEAT
by Joe Beguiristain

It all seemed like a normal end to practice for the HEAT.

Intense competition, a sprint for the losing squad and a team huddle.

Pretty basic stuff, right?

Except that it wasn’t.

Sitting off to the side watching practice was Khari Peterson, a two-time cancer survivor and a friend of Udonis Haslem. Once the team huddled up to conclude practice, Peterson addressed the team.

“I’m glad I was able to come out here and actually motivate them and give them some kind of inspiration about life,” Peterson said. “We’re all ain’t promised anything today, so like I told them wake up, first thing I say in the morning is, ‘Thank God’ because without him, none of this [is] possible. And I just go out and try to be positive for somebody, man, because even though I had my rough days, somebody else is always worse off than you. So that’s why I told them, ‘It’s bigger than me.’ That’s how I look at it everyday.”

Haslem and Peterson met at UF Health Shands Hospital about 11 years ago when Peterson was doing an interview and Haslem was up there for a charity event. While the two lost contact down the road, Peterson’s wife sent Haslem a photo of her husband and him on Instagram. After exchanging messages, Haslem and Peterson have been back in contact ever since.

“Even when I was busy or preoccupied, he always stayed close with my mom and the family, and he always kept me updated on what he was going through, so once we got back in contact, we’ve been going pretty strong,” Haslem said.

Peterson was first diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma and got through that before a rare brain tumor was found recently. After having surgery for the tumor on Jan. 10, he started treatment in March and beat it on April 14.

“He’s just been an inspiration to myself, and he’s become part of my family with his battle with cancer,” Haslem said. “A lot of people know that obviously I lost my mom to cancer. He’s just been an inspiration to me with a lot of things that I’ve had to go through and a lot of things that I’ve experienced in my life.

He beat cancer twice, and he’s always positive. He’s had some days where he’s been down and I’ve lifted him up, too, so we have a great working relationship. We keep each other going.”

Peterson echoed his friend’s sentiments.

“People ask me, 'How does it feel [to know Udonis Haslem]?' It’s not even about he’s a player. He’s just a down-to-earth person,” Peterson said. “He’s the coolest person that’s famous that I know that’s just still level. Everyday it’s an honor to know this man.”