Before he became The Captain for the Miami Heat, Udonis Haslem looked with reverence toward his captain, the teammate at the University of Florida who planted the seeds of leadership that remain in place more than two decades later.
That is what has made this past month so difficult, and the reason Haslem missed five games for what the Heat listed as personal reasons.
Because there was a point before he found his Heat way that Haslem needed a driving force to provide guidance on the court and beyond.
That guidance came from Major Parker, the former Cardinal Gibbons standout who was the state’s 4A Player of the Year in 1997 and went on to captain Haslem’s Gators for two seasons.
Now, Parker is gone, recently succumbing to a heart attack at 44.
So even as he is with the Heat for these Wednesday and Friday night games against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, it is why Haslem remains in mourning.
“That’s something that you just never expect, somebody at 44 years old to unexpectedly die of a heart attack,” Haslem said during a quiet moment in the Heat locker room. “Talk about leadership, and you talk about work ethic, guys like him and Brent Wright, those guys had always worked like that. I had to learn to work like that.
“I was just a naturally gifted guy at a young age. I had to learn how to work like that. And then there’s guys like Major and Brent that pushed me every day. And through that there was a bond that was built with us three that lasts forever.”
The Haslem who played alongside Parker with the Gators needed the very type of direction that Haslem, now, at 42, attempts to impart to the Heat’s neophytes.
What he, Parker and Wright had was supposed to last a lifetime.
“Me, Major Parker and Brent Wright stayed connected, took trips throughout the summers,” Haslem said. “Major worked my basketball camps. Those are two guys that I planned on ‘til 70, 80, taking trips with and having those times together.
“And it just changed so fast, so drastically. And I just wasn’t ready.”
So Haslem stayed away, as the Heat played on.
“I kind of struggled not being with the team,” Haslem acknowledged. “I watched every game. But mentally, emotionally, physically you just can’t pour from any empty cup. So physically, emotionally I wasn’t able to contribute for the guys.”
Parker’s story was a layered one, including a drug bust that came out of a need to provide for family, one without jail time, and then a previous heart attack.
Each time, he bounced back, in the community, with family, with friends. Each time with Haslem at his side.
“He’s a tough dude,” Haslem said. “We didn’t expect anything different. Even after the first heart attack, everything was going good. You just thought that he was fine and he was going to be cool.
“I feel for his wife. He’s got four daughters. Come on, man. Black women, in today’s society, you want your father, you need your father. There’s just so many things to be sad about. Hey, man, I don’t know, it’s a tough one.”
So now more loss, with Haslem losing his father just over a year ago.
“And I’m still recovering from the things I did with my father. This was a lot of trauma,” Haslem said. “So I’m still trying to get myself together. It’s a work in progress.”
So as the Heat played on, Haslem paid respects, including at the funeral in Fort Lauderdale.
“Teddy Dupay, who I haven’t seen in a while, was there,” Haslem said, “Coach [Billy] Donovan’s wife was there. A lot of people we hung out with, not just from the basketball team, were there. It wound up being a little bit of a reunion.
“But I miss him, man. I miss him a lot.”