MIAMI (AP) — Udonis Haslem had one arm draped over the shoulders of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava as they walked slowly toward the Champlain Towers condo collapse memorial site Tuesday.
The Miami Heat captain didn’t know what to say. He simply knew he had to say something.
“Continue to pray,” he said.
Haslem, a Miami native who began his NBA career with the Heat in 2003 and has remained with the franchise ever since, is one of the most beloved figures in the city’s sports history.
He laid a wreath of red and white flowers at the photo- and bouquet-laden fence in Surfside, Florida, that has served as a makeshift memorial to the 16 people who died in the collapse and the more than 140 who remain unaccounted for.
He then scrawled a message: “Our hearts are broken for those who have passed. We pray for them and we pray for peace for all the families!!!”
Haslem later visited briefly with first responders and thanked them for their tireless efforts searching through the rubble for seven consecutive days.
“We’re so grateful for a towering man to come and show his love and support,” Levine Cava said, flanked by the 6-foot-8 Haslem. “The whole world is watching us here in Surfside, and this is just a small moment that signifies the magnitude of this event.”
Haslem said he was urging everyone to support relief efforts.
“It’s emotional for me,” he said. “It’s hard to fight back the feelings, the pain, the tears. For me, being a part of Miami and staying in Miami, it was always bigger than basketball for me,. It just breaks my heart. As the captain of this team, as a leader in this city, I ask that we all come together.”
The Heat and nearly all of the city’s other major pro and college teams have had a regular presence at the collapse site. Heat player Tyler Herro and two assistant coaches visited on the day of the collapse, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra attended a vigil near the site earlier this week.