Sure, they would hit it off. Just not before one of them hit the floor. It was 1998, on the University of Florida campus. They were freshmen from dissimilar backgrounds, one white and from South Dakota, the other black and from South Florida. Both trying to make an early impression as young Gators, even in a friendly scrimmage. "I tried to dunk on him," Mike Miller says. "He tried to," Udonis Haslem says. "He didn't dunk." "He took me out of the air," Miller says. "That's when I realized that's how he plays." "Yeah, knocked him down," Haslem says, grinning. Yet, in a sign of what was to come, hardly out. That's been virtually impossible to do to either, as is most recently evidenced by their emergence as major factors in the post-season for the Miami Heat, after the most frustrating regular seasons of each of their respective NBA careers - Miller missing 41 games because of thumb and head injuries, and Haslem missing 69 because of a ligament tear in his foot. Six weeks ago, Erik Spoelstra was warned by team physicians not to count on Haslem or Miller for the playoff run; in the past four games, he's played them a combined 188 minutes, relying on them to supplement Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh down the stretch. Both have played well, even as Miller's mind is also on his baby daughter, Jaelyn, who finally got to go home Sunday, after being born with four small holes in her heart. "I mean, it means a lot to do this obviously because of my Mom, and coming back, and being hurt, and overcoming those obstacles," said Haslem, who lost his mother Debra to cancer before the season. "But for him, he's been on a lot of not-so-great teams (in the NBA), and he deserves it. And this is what I told him when he was talking about coming here, that he would have an opportunity to do this." They welcomed the opportunity to try to do it together, to be linked as NBA champions long after their lives first intersected. Their connection actually began before Miller's aforementioned, thwarted dunk attempt, back when Haslem saw him at a tournament in Las Vegas - before he knew they'd both be going Gator. "I'd never met anyone from South Dakota," Haslem says. "I thought he'd probably be soft. I was very impressed. Because he had game." They would get to know each other better as suitemates, sharing a four-bedroom apartment with two showers and sinks.
Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller energizing Miami Heat's title drive
Palm Beach Post | May 30