MIAMI Miami lost its first seven games in 2003-04. But there was plenty of reason for the Heat to believe bad times wouldnt last long.
Dwyane Wade was showing as a rookie he would pan out as the No. 5 pick in the draft. And there was another rookie, one not even drafted, who gave the Heat further reason to salivate.
During those seven Heat losses, forward Udonis Haslem played like a man possessed, averaging 9.1 rebounds. Turns out, he was merely following orders.
First thing that Coach (Pat Riley) actually told me when I walked in here is that everybody in this league can score, and the way I was going to make my niche and make this team is to hit the boards and rebound, Haslem said of Riley, the Heat president who also had two tours as the team's coach.
Haslem, who had spent a year in France after getting out of the University of Florida in 2002, has been doing that ever since. On Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena, he likely will become the all-time leading rebounder in Heat history.
The Miami native has 4,806 career boards, one short of what center Alonzo Mourning grabbed for Miami in 11 seasons across two stints from 1995-2008. Haslem, who passed an injured Wade last Saturday to become the Heats all-time leader in games played, with 605, has a career average of 7.9 rebounds.
The memories Ill always have, until I get old or get Alzheimers or something, that I was the rebounding champion, Haslem said. In front of my hometown fans that supported me for so long (getting the Heat rebounding record) will be a great accomplishment.
The 10-year man will have more than memories. Heat officials will retrieve the ball from Haslems historic rebound and make sure its his to keep.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only undrafted players since the common draft began in 1966 to have grabbed more rebounds than Haslem are Ben Wallace (10,482) and Brad Miller (6,199), who both retired after last season. Haslem has done all his board work despite standing only 6-foot-8.
Well, thats what hes listed at.
Eh, 6-7 and a half, three-quarters, maybe, with my shoes on, Haslem said about actual height.
Haslem, averaging 4.4 points and 4.8 boards this season in a career-low 17.3 minutes, doesnt play as much has he once did. But hes still an integral part of the Heats position-less philosophy, which includes no qualms about being undersized.
Its a prime example of what we always talk about, about height mattering, said Heat forward LeBron James. Its about willpower and strength and determination. Ill be happy for him when (the rebounding mark) happens, so Wednesday cant get there fast enough for him.
James and Wade one day might have statues outside AmericanAirlines Arena. But there always be a soft spot in Heat coach Erik Spoelstras heart for Haslem, who has a career scoring average of 9.4.
Spoelstra was an assistant on Miamis 2006 champions before being the head man for last seasons titlists. Spoelstra knows you need stars to win but also gritty role players such as Haslem.
We have core guys for this organization, Spoelstra said. We can list them for you, we can define them for you or we can just give the picture of U.D., and that would tell the whole story. He embodies all we want of a Miami Heat basketball player.
Spoelstra said it will be special when Haslem breaks the record.
First of all, hes a hometown guy from right in our backyard, Spoelstra said. Its a great story coming from Liberty City, not being drafted and absolutely earning everything hes gotten in this league.
Much of it started with Riley, who has the favorite expression, no rebounds, no rings. Haslem listened to Riley, and 10 years later he has two rings.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson