Spoelstra emotional for Haslem’s first final step? Heat captain hasn’t played an opener since 2015 – The Denver Post


It’s not that Erik Spoelstra didn’t want to go there, it’s just that he didn’t want to make this an 82-game process.

And yet there the Miami Heat coach stood, on the practice court at FTX Arena, asked about Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. season opener against the visiting Chicago Bulls standing as the final opening night of Udonis Haslem’s 20-year career with the team.

“Are we going to have to do that all year: his last home game, last road trip? I don’t even want to think about that,” Spoelstra said, with Haslem, 42, announcing in August that this would be his final season.

Having been through such an endgame before, when Dwyane Wade made 2018-19 his final season, Spoelstra said it is an experience best slowly savored.

“I’ve said it before, I went through that with Dwyane and I really want to be present and enjoy it,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t want to get sad thinking about the end of this chapter. Because there’s going to be another great chapter after this. I just want to be able to enjoy it.”

As for the reality of this being Haslem’s final opening night, in recent years such moments have been non-events. Haslem has not played on opening night since Oct. 28, 2015, when the Heat defeated the visiting Charlotte Hornets 104-94. On that night, Haslem was the 10th Heat player to enter, playing behind the likes of Gerald Green and Josh McRoberts, utilized for 10:38, closing with six points, four rebounds.

Since then, Haslem:

— Was one of four reserves not to play on opening night 2016.

— Was one of three reserves not to play on opening night 2017.

— Was one of four reserves not to play on opening night 2018.

— Was inactive on opening night 2019.

— Was one of five reserves not to play on opening night 2020.

— Was inactive on opening night 2021.

Still, just having Haslem at his side throughout this seasonlong ride, Spoelstra said, will be special.

“I love having him in our locker room,” Spoelstra said of the team’s captain. “I love having him lead and mentor every single day. I think his genius is the fact that he’s developing mentors around him, the next round of mentors, the guys who will really be caretakers for this culture and really help bring along other guys.

“It’s really an amazing quality that UD has. He has such a serving heart.”



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