The Miami Heat loves referring to itself as “a family” and that sentiment is buoyed by their continued dalliances with Beasley, whose immaturity, lack of focus and off-the-court mishaps have left a modestly productive and once-promising player saddled with the bust label.
The Heat knows Beasley better than most and is willing to accept his quirks, flaws and all, but within limits. Beasley is on his second 10-day contract, and still has to earn a spot with the team for the remainder of the season.
“You’re talking to a No. 2 pick. One of the best players in college basketball — not to toot my own horn. But to go from there to now be on a 10-day is definitely humbling,” Beasley said. “They always say, it could be gone tomorrow. For me, it was gone. Twice.”
A few weeks removed from drinking snake juice and eating horse and lizard while a member of the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, Beasley said he’s “playing to eat” now in Miami, another last shot in a career that has already had a few. When asked about the greatest impediment in his career, Beasley responded, “I’ve been playing with a mental block. I can’t really explain. It needs to be lifted and nobody can do that but me.” Miami drafted Beasley in 2008 — ahead of future all-stars Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez, among others — and traded him two years later to Minnesota to clear up the cap space required to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
The Timberwolves let Beasley walk after two years of empty-calorie production. The Suns dismissed one year into a three-year, $18 million contract after a disappointing season (and one marijuana-related arrest) and the Heat didn’t bother bringing him back in the offseason after a failed reclamation project.
Beasley appeared to be a lost cause when he couldn’t find a consistent role on a championship contender with a solid structure and supportive system. While Spoelstra acknowledges that last summer was “unique” given how the stunning defection of James forced the team to scramble, the fact remained that Miami didn’t bring back Beasley.
“Was it frustrating? It was more frustrating when I came to terms that it was me,” Beasley said, when asked to describe his summer. “I can sit here and blame this guy or blame that guy, blame that situation, but once you come to terms with the common denominator of it all, I think that’s the frustrating part. You get over it, you continue to work and you move forward.”
Beasley accepted a training camp invite with Memphis before backing out and taking a job 8,000 miles away, with a team owned by Yao Ming. While in China, Beasley re-discovered his game. He dominated inferior talent, set a record in the CBA all-star game record by scoring 59 points – as a reserve, no less – and regained some of the confidence that was surely rattled by a string of rejections.
“I got to be myself again,” Beasley said. “Not that I’m not being myself here, it was just amplified.”
The silence of loneliness was also deafening for Beasley as he learned that someone wasn’t always going to be there to listen to him, to pick up after him, to do his laundry, to cook him meals. He had to fend for himself and seek comfort from within.
“You don’t really realize you’re alone until stuff is not getting done. I had to learn how to be an adult,” Beasley said of his time in China. “I’ve never been myself. I’ve always been enabled. And not in a bad way, I’ve always been helped. I’ve always had someone doing things for me. I’ve found comfort in being alone. I still have friends. But the sanctity of my own thoughts are very comforting.”
When Beasley returned from China, the Heat allowed him to work out at American Airlines Arena to prepare for his next move. The Heat then decided to bring him back five days after losing all-star forward Chris Bosh for the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs.
Beasley hasn’t tried to repackage himself or claimed to be a different man, only a more desperate one. And he joins a team that desperately needs his services to make the playoffs for the seventh straight season – a streak that began with Beasley’s arrival. Miami (28-34) is currently ninth in the East but only a half-game behind seventh place Charlotte.
“We view Mike as a family member. We drafted him. We spent a lot of time developing him,” Spoelstra said. “With all the change that we’ve had it was very nice to add someone this late in the game that’s a familiar face, that understands our culture. And we feel very comfortable with. That’s unique at this time of year. Continuity is important.”
Miami isn’t asking Beasley to be much more than the stone-cold scorer he always has been, but he is also giving the team more on the defensive end — a must to earn more minutes from Spoelstra.
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Beasley said, when asked what he feels he has to prove to the Heat or the rest of the league. “I’m going to play with a clear mind. Let my game speak for itself. Let my game help the team and y’all make of it what you please. I’m not really looking for anything individually. I’m not really concerned about myself. Everything is about the team right now. So whatever I can do to help the team get to the playoffs and help throughout the playoffs, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Spoelstra has used the 6-foot-8 Beasley as an undersized center in some extreme small-lineup scenarios and that yielded some success against Washington, as Beasley scored 13 fourth-quarter points to help cut a 35-point deficit down to one in the final minute. But it as also led to more moments of Beasley at his entertaining best. In a win over Sacramento, Beasley tried defending Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in the low post, which led to a floptastic adventure in which they locked hands, tangled arms and Beasley swung over Cousins’s back as if he was doing the lindy hop.
The Beasley experience isn’t complete without some silliness and laughter.
While in China, Beasley playfully attempted to untie an opponent’s shoe – twice – before boxing out at the free throw line. In his Heat re-re-debut, Beasley dunked on Atlanta Hawks reserve Mike Muscala, then swung on the rim like a jungle gym and received a technical foul. While most of his teammates were celebrating the emphatic lefty jam, Wade was looking toward the ceiling and rolling his eyes over Beasley’s antics.
“It was uncalled for,” Wade said, shaking his head. “When he got that dunk, it was an amazing athletic play and when he got that tech, I’m like … ”
Wade shook his head again. He has always treated Beasley like an annoying little brother and has never stopped hazing him. When the Heat left for a road trip last week, Wade left his bag behind for Beasley to carry.
“He’s like, ‘D, it’s been seven years.’ I’m like, you’re still my rookie, so,” Wade said with a laugh. “I want the best for him. I think the biggest thing I told him is, don’t put no pressure on yourself right now. Chris is out and you want to do so well. Don’t press it, just play. We’re happy to have you back. Obviously, we need you, but this is not China, we don’t need you to score 59 points. We got a team, we can win if we play together.”
Udonis Haslem was quick to give Beasley a hard time in the locker room for being indecisive and letting time expire before getting off a potential game-winning shot in Friday’s loss against the Wizards. Beasley tried to explain that the error occurred because of a lack of experience in late-game situations. Tyler Johnson, a recent Developmental League call-up, pointed out that Beasley had demanded the ball in that situation because he was best suited to deliver.
“He’s just lying to everybody,” Johnson said, leading to chuckles throughout the locker room.
Beasley smiled along with his teammates and said he needs this kind of camaraderie after spending so much time by himself in China. Aside from the playful chiding, Beasley found support from his mistake against Washington. As he headed to the locker room, a dejected Beasley was greeted by a consoling Spoelstra. Spoelstra wrapped his right arm around Beasley, who in turn wrapped his left around Spoelstra and they walked through the tunnel together.
“I love being around people that love having me around,” Beasley said. “It’s different paths to the top of the mountain. And I’m glad I can share my path with these guys.”