These survival-of-the-fittest games move very fast. And, cold as the wild, the pack will leave you to shrink in the rear-view mirror if you are limping. Udonis Haslem was supposed to be at the center of this Miami Heat circus, but instead he is outside the tent, leaning on a crutch, undone by the kind of rare foot injury usually sustained by football players, distance runners and car-crash victims. Haslem is a very rugged man, as hard as the Miami streets that helped shape him. He is not used to being this helpless.

"It feels terrible," he says.

The worst part?

He does not hesitate when answering this. He does not talk about winning or scoring or fun with the guys on the road. Fame? Relevance? Glory? No, no, no. He doesn't mention playing cards on the team plane or the locker-room laughter or the home crowd swelling and swaying behind him.

No, the worst part is this:

"Seeing Dwyane [Wade] get fouled hard by Dwight Howard or seeing LeBron [James] get the headband knocked off his head," he says.


"I don't have words for how much that bothers me," he says. "I wouldn't let anything happen to them if I was out there. If that means I get thrown out protecting them and they get to keep playing, so be it."

Haslem's story isn't just about basketball. It is about who he is, and how much this team and this city mean to him. There never has been a professional athlete in this town who has taken as much pride in his Miami roots and proved it with everything from his scars to his paychecks.

When the Heat won the NBA championship in 2006, bringing it back to the ravaged Liberty City that once rioted around him as a child and now rejoiced around him as an adult, there was only one man in that winning locker room who understood the weight of what that meant to his neighbors. That might explain why so-rugged, so-rough, so-stoic Udonis Haslem was the only one in that locker room sobbing.