LeBron James has known a lot of players alongside whom he has evolved, during his immense and long career. One of them, however, has a very special relationship with France, having shone there before becoming a prominent figure in the NBA landscape. Without this brief freelance, many things could have happened differently.
When you think of the Heat, the first name that comes to mind is Dwyane Wade, unsurprisingly. However, another player is considered to be one of the Floridians’ history makers: Udonis Haslem. Since 2003 and without interruption, the veteran has been present in the workforce, counting no less than 19 seasons to his credit for South Beach. His role has drastically diminished for several years (just 13 games in 2021-22), but he remains Miami’s leading all-time rebounder.
If everyone knew him in the company of the Tres Amigos formed by Flash, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, we often forget that his career did not begin on the NBA courts. Undrafted in 2002 when he left the University of Florida, Haslem had no future prospects in his native country. Suddenly, he decides to try his luck abroad, in order to make a name for himself. By the fruit of chance, it is on the side of France that he will decide to put down his suitcases.
Udonis Haslem, from Elan Chalon to the NBA
This is how he landed in Chalon, in the summer of 2002, and it didn’t take long for him to attract attention in France. If he was not considered among the 60 best of his draft vintage, the interior is nonetheless a fierce athlete during his first years. Very athletic and surly, with one or two moves under the circle, he will be a hit during his only campaign in the French championship.
As a result, he finished the exercise in question with 16 points and 9 rebounds on average, a largely satisfactory production. Proof that he gave everything and showed high-level professionalism, he also took advantage of his time in French territory to transform himself physically. Weighing 140 kilos on his arrival, his weight having also aroused concern among scouts after his NCAA course, he will lose almost 25 in just a few months. A sacred investment in itself which will intrigue the leaders of the league.
Indeed, following the end of his season with Elan Chalon, he will receive an offer from the Heat in the summer of 2003, which has just selected a certain Dwyane Wade in the draft. The two men therefore arrive together in Florida, an all the more symbolic base for the big man since, in addition to his studies at the local university, he is even from Miami. A true child of the country wholesale, which will not take long before becoming the darling of the public.
Almost indisputable holder during his first years, including during the 2005-06 season which will see him lift the first of his three titles (after having fought a big battle with Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals), he will gradually become a sixth man, before being only the last member of the roster. For the record, he has just played with Jae Crowder, after having been the teammate of… his father, Croey Crowder in France. The circle is officially complete.
Without his time at Chalon, we might never have seen Udonis Haslem achieve a 19-season career in the NBA. It is easy to imagine that Miami fans still thank the French club today, which launched the professional career of their iconic player.