“Man, you had to go through something,” Miami lifer Udonis Haslem explained of the connection Heat players share. “You had to go through something in life that put a chip on your shoulder. And that’s built grit inside you that you’re willing to go through extreme circumstances to get where you’re trying to go.” There’s a loyalty within the Heat’s culture that is rare in the NBA. “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s so militaristic and hard-nosed,'” Heat big man Meyers Leonard said. “No, the Heat just want a level of professionalism … but truly at heart it’s loyal, caring people.”
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Richardson promptly purchased a high-end scale for his bathroom, where he weighed himself every morning. There would be no surprises when he walked into the facility and was sent for a weight and body fat check. He’d go on to lose around 35 pounds in six weeks. The individual fitness standards are just one facet of a Heat culture that demands a buttoned-up professionalism from its players. The organization exudes intensity, and those who find that vibe repressive or conformist should probably seek employment elsewhere. “It was the first time in my career — from top to bottom — there was no back and forth,” Richardson said. “You have to be cut from the cloth. If you don’t have the wherewithal, it will break you. It will make you not like basketball.”
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Haslem, born and raised in Miami-Dade County, has spent 17 years with the franchise as an undrafted gem in 2003. The three-time champion’s impact on the franchise continues to be immeasurable. And it almost never happened. “The Heat didn’t offer me a deal after summer league,” Haslem said. “I went to play for the Spurs’ summer league team and they offered me a one-year deal. When the Heat found that out, they decided to offer me a two-year deal. “I was on my way to Pop. A lot of people don’t know that.”
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Dan Wakefield sits in his living room, actually, a lot of the time he stands, paces and then drops to his knees when a bucket falls in for the Miami Heat. Sometimes, he has to lean on the mantle over his fireplace when the game gets too intense. He wears a Miami jersey or T-shirt, eats pizza, drinks Coke Zero and is cheering as fiercely as anyone for the Heat to cream the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. And he’s doing it inside Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ old house.
After graduating from DePauw University in 1999, Stevens lived in this Northview Avenue home, renting it with a couple of other guys, Wakefield said. He doesn’t feel too bad for cheering against Stevens. “I know they’re nice guys and all that,” he said. “I wish Erik Spoelstra had rented it.”