Whether on the court or off, Udonis Haslem has spent his entire adult life giving back to his hometown of Miami. Still in the NBA at the tender age of 40, Udonis is much more than a person who’s helped the Miami Heat win three championships in a span of seven years. As Griffin Harrington found out, that accomplishment is but a small part of Udonis’ life story.
I directed, shot, and edited a 30-minute feature and photographed Udonis Haslem in his hometown of Miami in February for Close Up 360. Our project was framed through the eyes of Caron Butler, Udonis’ old teammate from the Miami Heat. Udonis gave us eight hours of his off day to drive Caron and the small crew around the city and show us the impact he’s working on in Miami — and the people who help him accomplish that goal.
Udonis Haslem (left) and Caron Butler both played in the NBA for more than a decade.
What came out of the day is a dozen or so really powerful portraits and a cool raw, documentary inside the world of this OG of Miami.
The documentary made its debut on the online channel Players TV in August and is now on YouTube for all to see. It’s an inspiring look at an individual who is as beloved in his hometown as a person can get. Udonis’ community does not see him as a millionaire celebrity — or look up to him because of that. They love him because he’s like a family member to everyone in the area.
Udonis lives and breathes Dade County, Miami. I spent eight hours with him, driving from one corner of the city to another. Everywhere we went, Udonis was the center of attention. But this wasn’t a normal “celebrity sighting” — Udonis means something more to this community.
He isn’t a celebrity as much as he is a city official or an unelected leader. Strangers came up to Udonis as if they were old friends, often knowing his relatives and finding a deep connection that Udonis always validated with a nod or acknowledgement. Udonis is Miami.
You can tell the kind of person Udonis is due solely to the fact that he gave Griffin an entire workday to explore Miami. And not the Miami that shows up in travel brochures and tourism sites. Instead, Griffin learned about the tangible ways Udonis is improving his hometown, something that runs in his family.
Udonis is deeply connected to many areas of the city. We spent a particularly powerful moment in Overtown, the neighborhood that borders the tourist friendly Wynwood, known for the graffiti and boutiques. Overtown is next door, but significantly poorer and underprivileged.
Udonis’s late mother spent years of her life in this part of town and made a significant impact on the women in that community. Udonis is now deeply connected to the community leaders in Overtown and brought us to a housing development he is starting that will bring affordable housing to an area that deeply needs it. Udonis is memorized in Overtown with a mural of his own.
He is prolific off the court with his impact [in other ways as well]. He has a robust children’s foundation, he’s building affordable housing, and during COVID he has given away thousands of dollars of food from his restaurant that he co-owns with Dwayne Wade, just to name a few.
The story was so compelling, in fact, that the Close Up 360 team quickly realized the doc would be a lot longer than originally anticipated. After months of editing and tweaking, the documentary debuted to great acclaim and helped people in and out of the basketball world realize what an important and impactful person Udonis is in the Miami community.
We knew this would be a really special story the moment we left UD that night, but we honestly didn’t intend to pull a 35-minute documentary out of our eight hours of production. This story was strong and the conversation was so natural between Caron and UD, so we decided to let this doc breath a bit and were really proud of the vibe and pace this story presents. It took three months of on and off editing to pull it together in post.
Executive Producer: Jared Zwerling
Producers: Caron Butler, Krizia De La Puente
Camera Operators: Jon Zietz, Amir Ebrahimi
Copy Editor: Josh Martin
Production Assistant: Connor McDonald
Designers: Jake Ratner, Gil Dubin, Jeff Franko
Check out more of Griffin’s work at griffinharrington.photography.