Friend of Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem inspires team with talk

MIAMI – As the Miami Heat wrapped up practice Wednesday, coach Erik Spoelstra called for 29-year-old Khari Peterson to address the team.

Peterson, from Panama City, met team captain Udonis Haslem about a decade ago and now, after beating cancer twice, has become an inspiration for Haslem and, in turn, the Heat.

“He had some very kind inspirational poignant words for our group just to keep things in perspective,” Spoelstra said.

Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem with friend and two-time cancer survivor Khari Peterson. (Tom D’Angelo/Palm Beach Post)

Peterson’s message was not to take life for granted. Peterson was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, a non-Hodgkin lymphoma, more than 10 years ago and in January underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor that was discovered last year.

“We all aren’t promised another day,” said Peterson, who watched practice with family members. “So I told them, wake up and the first thing in the morning I told them was to thank God. Without him, none of this (is) possible.

“I just go out and try to be positive for somebody. Even though I have my rough days, somebody else is always worse off than you. That’s why I told them, it’s bigger than me.”

Haslem was surprised when he heard Peterson those words – It’s bigger than me. It was as if Peterson knew exactly what to say.

“We didn’t tell him to say ‘it’s bigger than me,’” Haslem said. “He said that on his own. It’s crazy because that’s been our slogan for the last couple of years, that it’s bigger than me. For him to come to me and say that, it just shows that it really is bigger than me and us.”

Peterson was at Shands Hospital in Gainesville 10 years ago when he met Haslem, who was in town for a charity event. The two struck up a friendship and have remained in touch through the years.

“People ask me, ‘how does it feel?’” Peterson said. “He’s a down to earth person. He’s the coolest person that is famous that I know.”

Haslem, who lost his mom to cancer, set up the meeting with Spoelstra.

“He’s just been an inspiration to me and a lot of things I’ve had to go through and a lot of things I’ve experienced in my life,” Haslem said. “Sometimes people don’t really understand. They think as basketball players, we have it all figured out and we have everything. But we need people to talk to. We need people to lean on to. We need people to inspire us, as well.

“He’s beat cancer twice and he’s always positive. He’s had some days when he’s been down and I lifted him up too. We keep each other going.”

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