It turns out, the Miami Heat’s blowout victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night might not have been the highlight of their weekend trip to Atlanta.
Instead, it well could have been a poignant and powerful moment with two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington at their team hotel ahead of that Sunday rout.
There, gathered in a semicircle around the 67-year-old actor, director and producer, the Heat found themselves in rapt absorption as Washington offered impromptu words of inspiration.
“Keep raising the standard about how you carry yourself, as you all do,” he said to his engrossed audience of players and team staffers. “Keep teaching, keep leading, keep following. You know, learn from the best. That’s what I’ve done. Try to, and pass it on.
“Last thing I’ll say, which I’ve said a lot of times, you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I’ll say it again, you’ll never a U-Haul behind a hearse. The Egyptians tried it. All they got was robbed.”
With several offering “amen” to that comment. Washington continued.
“Even money aside, you can’t take it with you,” he told them. “But you can, you can leave it with us — influence, your power, your wisdom, your ability to touch people.
“Because everybody’s watching you all. Everybody got a favorite guy.”
The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native then shared a moment about his own sports passion.
“I spoke to the Dodgers the other day. I even went in with a Yankees hat on. I don’t care,” he said. “Elston Howard was a black player in the 60s and I wanted to be him. I tried to walk like him, you know. You know, and stuff. You know, what you all did. I tried to walk like him and stuff. I ended up playing catcher.
“So you know that they’re watching you, and they’re following you. And especially for young boys, listen to your elders and lead quietly.”
He paused, then added, “and win.”
And then, as he shook hands with those gathered and asked where they stood in the series against Atlanta, he referenced the unique look of Hawks All-Star guard Trae Young.
“And tell that little boy to get a haircut,” he said with a smile amid laughter. “What kind of haircut he working with?”
Strus gets vote
Max Strus was the lone Heat player to receive a vote in the media balloting for NBA Most Improved Player. Strus emerged as a starter by season’s end, after spending the previous season with the Heat on a two-way contract.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant was a runaway winner, with San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray second and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland third.
Strus’ lone vote was a third-place selection on one ballot, which placed him 12th overall in the process.
The Heat’s only winners of the award remain Rony Seikaly in 1990 and Isaac Austin in 1997.
Team of the Year
The Heat have been named “Team of the Year” by NBA Sales & Marketing, an award determined by a committee of team and league executives.
The award recognizes, “demonstrated excellence in business performance across both key revenue drivers and operational focus areas, such as people and culture, and community impact.” The award covers performance during the past 24 months.
“No one could’ve foreseen the ways in which a global pandemic would change our industry, our business and our world,” Heat president Eric Woolworth said in a statement. “I am so happy our collective efforts are being recognized.”
In addition, Heat vice presidents Michael McCullough and Steve Stowe were co-winners of the “Values of the Game” award, which recognizes an individual or individuals who inspire “through the power of basketball.”