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Gary Washburn | On basketball

The Heat’s Udonis Haslem is speaking up for Florida and Floridians in opposition to Governor Ron DeSantis’s opinions

Miami Heat veteran Udonis Haslem is playing his final days of professional basketball and is ready to take on social issues and he's asking people to stop Florida-shaming residents of Florida.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

DENVER — These are the final days of Udonis Haslem’s career, and the soon-to-be 43-year-old veteran is shifting his focus from basketball to social issues in his home state of Florida.

Haslem is completely invested in Florida. He grew up in Miami, attended Miami Senior High School and the University of Florida. He’s spent 20 years with the Miami Heat and he’s very protective of what those who don’t live in Florida say about Florida, especially now.

As Governor Ron DeSantis prepares his 2024 presidential bid with a strong stance on the elimination of diversity and inclusion and the elimination of minority- and LGBTQ-based books from the school curriculum, Haslem felt inclined to speak out against those beliefs, stressing that all Floridians do not support DeSantis’s opinions.


On May 15, DeSantis signed a bill that would prevent Florida colleges from using state funding on diversity and inclusion programs. DeSantis also signed a bill in April 2022 banning critical race theory from being taught in schools. More than 500 books have been banned in various Florida school districts since 2021, and last month Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” poem was banned from the Miami-Dade County elementary school system.

Gorman recited the poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“Well first and foremost I’m going to ask people out there to stop Florida-shaming us,” Haslam said as the Heat prepare for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. “Everybody ain’t down with what’s going on in Florida. People think that because you live in Florida, like you just down with the [expletive]. We’re not. I’m not down with it. I’m not happy about it.

“I happen to live there and I was born there. It’s not my fault. So please stop Florida-shaming us people. We’re not happy about what this man [DeSantis] is doing. Diversity and inclusion and taking the [books away]. We’re not happy about that. I sit at home on the couch with my wife and raise hell.”


Florida has received increased criticism recently for the banning of books while Gorman said she was “gutted” after “The Hill We Climb” was added to the list. Haslem said these issues have made him angry but he stressed the importance of voting in local elections as a means of expressing displeasure.

“It’s very disappointing and I’m the father of three, three Black men,” he said. “Three boys that are coming up and I would love for them to learn in school about what the hell is really going on and what happened. But that’s out of my control. All I can do is get my ass up and vote. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to continue to encourage everybody around me. That’s all I can do.”

Haslem said he wonders why Florida is so focused on book bans when he believes the state isn’t addressing gun violence.

“You complain about what’s being taught in school but we took away the gun [law] where you can buy a [expletive] assault rifle at 18,” Haslem said. “I’m confused about what’s the priorities. We’re talking education and in the midst of all of this gun violence going on around the world, how about we just drop the gun laws and make it easier for them to get guns? The [expletive] is confusing to me, that’s why I’m not a politician.”


Haslem said solutions to these issues can start in the home.

“For me, honestly I had to re-teach myself a lot of things I was taught growing up,” he said. “When I started to realize what the hell was really going on out here. I had to tap in and re-teach myself about a lot of stuff that I was taught. I think you start there and then next you start to teach the next generation behind you. I’ve got to tell my kids the truth because I wasn’t told the truth all the time.”

Haslem said he’s trying to make an impact in the Miami community by partnering with mental health and drug rehabilitation facilities, helping create more affordable housing and also working to normalize medical marijuana.

“You should not be getting locked up for marijuana no more,” he said. “Get your marijuana card, brothers. Don’t let them pull you over or take you to jail for weed. We should not be going to jail for weed no more Black man. Stop that. I’m a part of letting people know what’s really out here and also providing jobs, man.

“I understand you’re a second-time offender, you might have made a mistake. I will help you get a job because I know they’re not looking for you out there. It’s hard for brothers to get jobs who have made mistakes. They’re not bad people, they’ve just made bad choices early on. Some people sit around and say things but I’m actually doing things, providing jobs, I’m giving opportunities, I’m educating people.


“That’s the best I can do.”

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.