LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA (AP) – It didn’t take Jae Crowder very long after joining the Miami Heat to figure out who the veteran leader of the team was.
“Udonis Haslem,” he said.
Correct. But who was the person that taught Haslem how to be that locker-room voice, that sage, “the OG” as the Heat call him?
That would be Corey Crowder. Jae Crowder’s father.
Haslem and Jae Crowder are now Heat teammates, competing in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. Corey Crowder is living in Fort Myers, Florida, a couple hours west of Miami, a couple hours southwest of Lake Buena Vista — the site of the NBA’s restart at Walt Disney World. And nearly two decades ago in France, Corey Crowder took a young rookie under his wing to show him the ropes. That rookie was Udonis Haslem.
“It’s an awesome story, when you think about it,” Corey Crowder said.
This tale of things going full circle starts 18 years ago in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, about 200 miles southeast of Paris. Haslem was a 22-year-old kid who went undrafted after his four seasons at Florida and headed to France hoping to kickstart his career. Corey Crowder had been playing overseas for nearly a decade at that point and was the person Haslem gravitated to for advice.
“If Corey Crowder wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t be here,” Haslem said this week at Disney, with the Heat set to take on Boston in Game 4 of the East finals. “I wouldn’t have lasted. I’d have (messed) it up.”
Haslem spent just the one year in France, lost about 50 pounds when he was there, fought his way into a tryout with the Heat and the Miami native has been with his hometown NBA team ever since. Corey Crowder remembers times during practice with the French club when Haslem would get put on the second team to face the rest of the starters, “and he’d beat us by himself,” Corey Crowder said.
“That’s when I told him, ‘You’ve got to get to the NBA’,” Corey Crowder said.
Haslem never forgot his kindness or his lessons.