From the time he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, LeBron James set incremental goals: to become the best player on his team, develop into one of the top players in the league and ultimately lead his franchise to multiple NBA championships.
Reaching the Basketball Hall of Fame wasn’t necessarily on his to-do list.
Although James is essentially a lock for a spot in Springfield when his playing days are over, the Miami Heat superstar experienced firsthand Wednesday just how humbling the call to the Hall can be for an accomplished player. Former Heat center Alonzo Mourning, now a team executive, will be among those inducted this year when the class is officially announced at the NCAA Final Four this weekend in Texas.
Mourning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who is also the first player in Heat history to earn the honor.
To collectively congratulate Mourning, James and the Heat welcomed one of the most intimidating defenders in league history into the team huddle to bring Thursday’s practice to a close.
“I think it’s an amazing feat for such an individual,” James said of Mourning, a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who won a title with Miami at the end of his career in 2006. “With his pro career being shut down for a little bit because of the injury he had with his kidney, to be able to come back from that and win a championship with this franchise, it means a lot.”
Mourning played a key role in recruiting James to Miami four years ago. In one of his first public duties as vice president for player programs, Mourning was part of the Heat’s front-office contingent that went to Cleveland to make a formal recruiting pitch to James during the 2010 free-agency period. When it was Mourning’s turn to speak, he talked to James about the Heat’s loyalty and how the team stuck with him through his kidney transplant and return to the court after his recovery.
Heat forward Chris Bosh said Mourning didn't do much talking Thursday when he was surrounded by the team. Instead, it was Miami’s current players who showed their gratitude for what he’s done on and off the court, which now includes charitable and political fundraising efforts.
“He’s also hosting luncheons and stuff with the president and playing golf with every important person in Miami, and now he’s a Hall of Famer,” Bosh said. “I just think it’s a testament to the hard work he’s put into the game for so long, and the work he continues to put into the community. I think he can set a great example for a lot of basketball players out there to see what you can do after basketball.”
The Heat have won four straight games since veteran forward Udonis Haslem moved into the starting lineup and helped boost the team’s slumping defense.
The opportunity had been a long time coming for Haslem, who had fallen out of the primary rotation and went without playing at all in 13 of 14 games at one stretch midway through the season. Haslem admitted Thursday that the diminished role and constant inactivity was frustrating, but he never lost faith that he would get another chance to contribute in a key role at some point down the stretch.
Haslem’s latest opportunity came after center Greg Oden struggled early in a March 26 loss at Indiana and was replaced as the starter entering the second half of that game. Since then, Haslem has shot 60.8 percent from the field over the past four games, averaging 7.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.
“It’s just [been] hard,” Haslem said of waiting for a shot to play. “You root guys on, tell guys what you see when they’re out on the floor, you continue to stay encouraged. But it’s just humbling experiences and unfamiliar territory for me. It’s the first time I’ve been through it, so I just had to figure it out.”
After being a starter on the Heat’s 2006 championship team, then playing a key rotation role on Miami’s title runs each of the past two seasons, Haslem remained confident he had something to contribute.
“We’ve got a lot of good players,” Haslem said. “So I just sat back and watched and looked for ways I could be effective if I did get in the game. When my opportunity came, I knew what to do.”
For the Heat, Dwyane Wade (hamstring) participated in most of Thursday’s practice but remains questionable for Friday’s game. Greg Oden (back) did conditioning work but did not go through practice. Ray Allen (flu) practiced and is expected to return from a week-long absence. The Timberwolves were without center Nikola Pekovic (ankle) for Wednesday’s home win against Memphis.
Did You Know?
Haslem and Allen confirmed Thursday they made a wager with one another over Saturday’s NCAA Final Four matchup between Florida and Connecticut but wouldn’t divulge what they bet. Haslem set a school scoring record with 27 points in Florida’s loss to Michigan State in the 2001 NCAA title game. Allen was UConn’s third-leading career scorer when he left as a junior to enter the 1996 NBA draft.
Quote Of The Day
“I think he just goes out and plays hard. It’s tough to enforce [in basketball]. In hockey, you can go punch somebody and be an enforcer. In basketball, it’s a little different. If you think about punching, it’s a flagrant 1 [penalty[.” -- Chris Bosh, on Haslem’s recent impact on the team.