NEW YORK – Hassan Whiteside already was excited about being honored by one of his former high schools, but the day became more special when a familiar face walked through the door.
“I knew a couple of my teammates were going to show up,” Whiteside said today as the Heat prepared for their game tonight at Brooklyn.
“Coach Spo surprised me. He came and it meant a lot.”
Erik Spoelstra along with assistant Octavio De La Grana, James Johnson, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo made the journey from New York City, across the river to East Side High School in Newark, N.J., on Thursday to support the 7-foot center, whose No. 32 was retired.
“His face when he saw coach Spo, he was ecstatic and it kind of gives you those goose bump feelings that he really does care,” Johnson said. “It was a just big night for Hassan. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”
Whiteside attended five high schools in addition to one year of prep school. He went to East Side for his junior year, after moving in with his father in Newark.
At East Side, he averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5.5 blocks a game.
“We were just there to support him and it was cool to see,” Spoelstra said. “I love going to see where players are from. It reminds you of how much they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are now.
“That’s such a small gym. It just takes you back. This is a very tough league to make it and he’s had to overcome quite a bit. The perseverance he’s shown to be able to get to this point is pretty remarkable. It was fun to see him in that environment. To see him back in that old gym, to talk to his old coaches.”
Whiteside remembers a very different East Side from when he was there 11 years ago.
“The school looked a lot smaller than it used to,” he said. “When I was there I was like 6-6. I didn’t really hit 7-feet until later on.”
And Johnson believes moments like these can have an impact on more than just the former player being honored.
“I thought it was a great ceremony,” he said. “It was done well, put on well. Something to give those kids to look up to, inner-city kids out there playing their hearts out in basketball get to see guys like Hassan Whiteside coming back. If he can make it out they can.”