Q&A: Udonis Haslem

Courtesy of David Aldridge

Me: How did you decide to house your businesses not just in Miami, but specifically in Liberty City and in the neighborhoods where you grew up?

Udonis Haslem: Being at home, playing for the Miami Heat all my life, it’s just like I’ve got so much family that needs help. Obviously, being younger, you’re naïve and you think, okay, I’ll give them some money. It doesn’t work like that. You’re crippling them. You’re not helping them. You’re not empowering them. So I got the point in my career and in my life where I was like, how can I empower my people? How can I help them and not cripple them? That’s when I started putting myself in position to provide jobs for people. It started with my Subways, and it just started with family, and then it grew to just people in my neighborhood I grew up around, and people I went to high school with, and whatever, just helping the inner city and underprivileged people.

Me: Are these franchises? I don’t know how that works.

UH: Franchises. Starbucks, Einstein (Bagels), Subways, Entenmann’s, and I have a couple more franchises that we’re bringing down to South Florida — 800 Degrees, which is a high end Italian pizza spot. It’s in L.A., Chicago, Dubai, Japan and Vegas, and we’re bringing that concept to Miami. That’s something that me and Dwyane are partnering on.

Me: The idea of helping people in the community … I know you want to do what you can, but this is your business now, too. How do you get people the skills they’ll need to be able to work for you?

UH: Great people around us. Great people around me. My business partner, Ramona Hall, has been in the franchising business for a long time. And my financial business, my financial advisor, Sylvester King, has been with me from day one, and I trust him. And now he’s just specifically working with me. Before he was just a financial advisor and they were working with a lot of guys … Andre Johnson from the (Houston) Texans, a lot of guys. Now he’s working, personally, just with me.

Me: So, what’s the plan? I think I saw 120 jobs?

UH: Yeah. That’s just two stores. I have two more Starbucks and two more Einstein’s coming in 2017. There’s an All Aboard Florida project that’s going to be building a train station that goes from Miami to West Palm to Orlando. It’s going to be a bullet train. That train station is going to be built in downtown Miami, right next to the soccer stadium that’s going to be built for David Beckham. So I’ll have two franchises in there, too, that’s going to provide more jobs.

Me: Where did this entrepreneurial passion come from?

UH: When I was hurt in the playoffs (2010), the year we played Chicago, I spent all year out. I came back for that Chicago series. I just had a lot of time to think. The injury I had was so specific, which was the Lisfranc injury. I had never heard of it. I had never seen it. And I started to research it. It wasn’t good. I didn’t know if I’d be back. And so I just had to start thinking.

Me: I’m sure you talked with Caron Butler about this?

UH: Yeah. Definitely. I had extensive conversations with Caron about it. I played with Caron one year and I had a chance to sit down and talk to him this summer.

Me: And he works with Junior Bridgeman. Will you try to do the same?

UH: I may. I know LeBron has done some stuff with Junior. I’m going to try to make that connection. But I’ve actually been studying Junior’s story and footprint, and I’m trying to follow in those footsteps, some of the things that he’s doing.

Me: This seems especially relevant now, with what Colin Kaepernick did and all of the discussion that NBA players are having about helping their communities in real ways. Was doing something, taking the next step, part of your thought process with these businesses?

UH: Yeah, it got to that. Really, it was just about my inner circle, and my family and friends, and then it just grew, impacting people I don’t know, might not get a chance to meet, and different things like that. Like I said, my team that I have around me, they’ve been amazing. They’ve empowered me. We empower each other in so many different ways. I know so much (now) about the franchising business, things I never thought I’d know. I know how to pick a franchise — where would you like to pick a franchise, what type of people would you like to hire? We partner with the city of Miami. They’re actually training about 50 people on our staff for us, so we don’t have to pay that. Once they finish the training, then they come over to us. I’m working with (Miami City Council) Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who’s also from Liberty City, my area. It’s just getting bigger and bigger. It’s grown.

Me: Do you accept the fact that city neighborhoods change over the years, and that you want to keep a footprint in yours after you’re done playing?

UH: Yeah, I do. And I think about 20 years from now. Some of these places have 20-year leases. I don’t know where I’ll be 20 years from now. But I know that’ll live on. I know I can still help people, even if I’m not around. God knows what my situation may be, but I know 20 years from now I’ll still be able to impact people, and help people.

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