MIAMI – Heat forward Udonis Haslem pulled aside teammate Goran Dragic Sunday to give him a lesson on ‘American football.’
“I was letting him know there were going to be no balls bouncing off the head,” he said. “It had nothing like that. Every time somebody scored a touchdown I looked at him and said ‘American football baby!’
“We just laughed and joked about it. But also you know I like soccer too. I’m a huge fan of soccer and got a lot of respect for the game of soccer.”
Dragic, raised in Slovenia, attended his first football game Sunday (as opposed to futbol), thanks to Haslem, who splurged for a suite at Hard Rock Stadium and invited all of his teammates to see the Dolphins defeat the Arizona Cardinals, 26-23.
All expect Dion Waiters, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, took him up on the offer.
“He got a pass,” Haslem said about Waiters. “But everybody else was there. I made it clear to everybody that once I paid my money for the tickets it was mandatory. For sure it was not cheap.”
Haslem, who grew up in Miami and is a huge Dolphins fan, said it’s the second or third time he has treated teammates to a game. He wanted to take advantage of the Heat’s day off between the end of their recent three-game road trip and the start of the a six-game home stand tonight when Miami faces Washington at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“You have to build relationships off the basketball court and those things continue to translate into wins on the basketball court the closer you get,” Haslem said.
“I just remembered back thinking to the championship run and all how close we were off the court and just how we were willing to take care of each other, have each other’s back and play for each other on the court because of the relationships we had off the court.”
This is the second time the Heat have had a team outing in a little more than a week. They had dinner in Portland at 23Hoyt, a restaurant in which coach Erik Spoelstra is a part owner.
Although soccer is Dragic’s first love (besides basketball), he’s starting to get the hang of the other football.
“Growing up in Europe, I prefer soccer more,” Dragic said. “But this is my ninth year in the states. So I started liking it. I like watching football. It’s an interesting game. Right now I understand the rules much better than when I came to the states. So, it’s fun.”
Something else Dragic had to become accustomed to, when to say ‘futbol’ and when to say ‘soccer.’
“Here I call it soccer,” he said. “But back home we call it futbol. I know if I’m talking to my friends here, my teammates. I always (say) soccer. And if I say football, it’s your guys’ football.”
Forward Derrick Williams also had never attended an NFL game. Williams grew up in Los Angeles which went without an NFL team from 1995 until the Rams returned to L.A. this year, moving from St. Louis.
“Not much going on when you talk about football in L.A.,” Haslem said.
Williams, though, has attended several USC and UCLA games.
“As one of the guys who has never been to an NFL game it was awesome,” Williams said. “Our team growing up was USC. I used to go to a lot of college games. I used to go to Pasadena to see UCLA as well as the Coliseum.”
Hassan Whiteside, a Carolina Panthers fan, had never been to a Dolphins game.
“It was great, man,” he said. “Thank you UD. Shout out to UD. He’s a great teammate. It’s a tough season for my Panthers. So right now everybody is killing me. We’re going to get it right. It’s good they won. It’s good for the city of Miami.”