By Linda Marx
Aug. 30, 2013
Neon beer signs, sports team logos and sexy posters may be de rigueur in the dorm rooms of college males, but while at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Udonis Haslem went one better. Somehow the Gators basketball player managed to keep a pit bull hidden in his room — which at the time was more emblematic of where he’d been than of where he was going: Mr. Haslem is now a captain of the Miami Heat and has won three N.B.A. championships with the team.
When they met 14 years ago, Faith Rein was more focused on the dog and its illegal residence in the dorm than in the starting center of the Gators. When her attention shifted to its owner, Ms. Rein, who, like Mr. Haslem, was attending college on an athletic scholarship, remembers thinking, “He was cute and super chill, but I was dating a football player and he was seeing a girl on the volleyball team.”
They were playing in different leagues, all right. She was raised in a Virginia suburb by a black Baptist mother and a Jewish father and had been a 100-meter national champion at age 10.
“I was an inner city Miami kid,” said Mr. Haslem, now 33, “with a drug-addicted mother, a stepmother who never married my father, and a son from a high school fling. I fought on the streets, watched friends die from drugs and violence, and learned to shoot hoops in Liberty City. I had no idea if she even liked me.”
They occasionally passed in the hallway but didn’t meet again until the following year. By that time Ms. Rein had dumped the football player and was engaged in a not-very-serious, long-distance relationship with a track star, and Mr. Haslem was recovering from a broken heart. “I was going through a rough time because my girlfriend cheated on me with another basketball player, a guy I saw every day at practice,” he said. “I like to address things and get them out in the open, but I knew better than to start trouble. I needed to move on.”
Mr. Haslem thought Ms. Rein was special because she was reserved and not full of herself. Yet when she did discuss her background, he found it intimidating.
Ms. Rein, meanwhile, was intrigued with his free-flowing conversations, which demonstrated his intelligence yet further illustrated the disparity of their childhoods.
“I liked the way he spoke, especially about life on Miami streets,” recalled Ms. Rein, who is now 32 and said she had never encountered racism in the suburban life provided by her parents. “He was dark-skinned and rough around the edges. I was very attracted.”
When nothing progressed, Ms. Rein asked him to take her out to dinner. “He joked that he would take me to Popeyes if I paid,” she said.
Over chicken and biscuits he found he “liked her competitiveness, intelligence and passion for what goes into winning and losing.”
Five minutes after dropping her at the dorm, he called and told her, “I like you, I am feeling you.” She was thrilled, but didn’t respond, hoping that he would now take the lead.
They met daily, always platonically. “Udonis was a challenge,” admitted Ms. Rein, who was more accustomed to men chasing her. “He excited me.”
Mr. Haslem said: “Faith was refreshing after the loud, confrontational, attention-seeking women I had known. She was bright and motivating, and as a jock, got what I do. But she was not easy to read, and I didn’t want to spoil our friendship by moving too fast.”
By May 2001, however, she and Mr. Haslem had become a couple, spending most of their free time together.
Their first challenge took place the following spring when she became pregnant. It was her junior and his senior year, and he had begun training for the N.B.A. draft. Despite the pregnancy, she was busy with track meets and helping him complete homework. The timing was bad.
“I am not a huge fan of abortion, but we both had sports careers, plus we could not financially handle a baby,” said Mr. Haslem, noting how he struggled with supporting Kedonis, the son he had in high school, who is now 14 and who lives with his mother.
“Udonis appreciated that I was willing to have an abortion,” Ms. Rein said. “I found him caring, supportive, nurturing and all over me to be sure I was O.K. I saw another side of him during that difficult time and fell deeply in love. He had a big heart and was the whole package.”
Their relationship was tested again when Mr. Haslem left college without graduating to practice basketball full time before the N.B.A. draft that summer, only to find himself devastated when he was not selected.
“He can go inside of himself when he feels insecure,” Ms. Rein said. “I wanted to be strong for him and let him know he had to stay positive, that this setback did not change anything between us.”
“She was the rock behind him at this very low point in his career,” observed Mike Miller, Mr. Haslem’s former Gator as well as Miami Heat teammate, now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. With that support, Mr. Haslem rebounded quickly, accepting a position with the Élan Chalon basketball team in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, while Ms. Rein remained in Gainesville to complete her bachelor’s degree in business administration. They communicated by Web chat twice a day for a year and visited several times. They say they never had a disconnect or considered dating anyone else.
That March, when Ms. Rein called him sobbing after she tore a hamstring — forcing her to drop track — he comforted her by saying, “It’s O.K.”
Mr. Haslem returned to Florida the next month. More than 30 pounds lighter, he had rebuilt his body, chiseling it down with weight lifting, play and a new diet. While she was proud to see how great he looked, it was Mr. Haslem who got the shivers. “The loyalty she showed while I was in Europe amazed me,” he said. “She said we would live forever in Europe if that was our fate.”
When she graduated in May 2003, Mr. Haslem was playing summer-league ball as a free agent, honing his defense and rebounding skills in off-season games with the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs. His new athleticism was validated when both N.B.A. teams made him offers. In August 2003, he signed with the Heat for two years. Ms. Rein was ready for them to be together, “but he wasn’t able to make a full commitment,” she said.
After gab sessions with several members of her family, Ms. Rein flexed her muscles by moving to New York to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.
“Faith and Udonis were crazy about each other,” said her older sister, Shanelle Rein-Olowokere. “But she needed to make her own money and see how it feels to be independent before becoming a basketball wife. I pushed her to go to New York.”
Mr. Haslem respected her decision, but once again questioned the differences in their backgrounds. He was baffled by her family sit-downs. “In my house,” he said, “we didn’t talk things over.”
While she worked as a production assistant for HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” they continued their Web chats and saw each other when the Heat played around the New York area. Ms. Rein yearned for him and told him so, occasionally worrying about late-night Miami parties and women chasing N.B.A. stars.
In any event, he was working hard on the court. He re-signed with the Heat in August 2005 and bought a four-bedroom house with a yard and a pool in a family community in Broward County, soon discovering that coming home to an empty space felt lonely.
“I was impressed with her independence those two years, but the separation made me realize how much I missed her and wanted to share my life with her,” he said. “I just didn’t know how to ask her to marry me. We had never lived together and while she comes from a home with parents who have been together forever, my family experience with marriage had been negative and painful. There was no happy ever after.”
Confident of his love, she joined him in February 2006, but had trouble adjusting to South Florida. For several months, she searched for a job, cleaned the house, worked out and learned the area. Mostly, she sat around waiting for Mr. Haslem to come home so she could make him dishes like tacos with yellow rice and okra followed by coconut cake.
All the while Mr. Haslem assured her that marriage was in the offing. Nevertheless, she admitted, “It was not a good time for me.” Mr. Haslem wanted her to make friends, but she was uncomfortable around the high-profile Miami Heat wives of that era. “It was a lonely existence,” she said.
Things changed quickly after their son Josiah, was born in January 2007, and Ms. Rein became a stay-at-home mom. She was extremely happy raising her son and sharing in the mercurial moments of Mr. Haslem’s thriving basketball career, including nursing his frequent injuries from his position as a power forward.
“Inside, they are the same big-hearted, family-oriented kind of people who approach life thoughtfully,” said James Jones, his Miami Heat teammate and boyhood friend. “They were already life partners.”
They had another son, Elijah, now 2 1/2. Shortly after Mr. Haslem again signed with the Heat, in July 2010, his 53-year-old mother, Debra Haslem, who had overcome her abuse of drugs, died of cancer. Shortly after that, the couple bought a bigger house in Broward County for their growing family, which included regular visits from Kedonis.
This only made Ms. Rein more anxious to become Mrs. Haslem. “I loved her just as much then as I do now,” he said. “She proved to be a strong family person and has helped me through rough times. She deserved to be happy, yet I was still afraid of marriage and had convinced myself that with a little more time it would all work out.”
That moment came last Aug. 29 after the couple enjoyed a romantic trip to Italy. Mr. Haslem was planning to ask Ms. Rein’s father for her hand in marriage when they returned to Florida; her parents, Richard and Gloria Rein, had been watching the couple’s children. During their first night back, Mr. Haslem got the answer he was looking for from Mr. Rein, but then waited until 2:30 a.m. to enter the bedroom where his intended was sound asleep. When he flipped on the lights, Ms. Rein was understandably irritated.
“All of a sudden Udonis got down on bended knee, opened the ring box and asked me to marry him,” she said. “I was shocked, but somehow managed a wide smile while blurting out, ‘Yes!’ ”
Their nondenominational seaside ceremony took place Aug. 24 at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach in Florida. The event was attended by 200 guests, including the Heat’s president, Pat Riley; its head coach, Erik Spoelstra; and the rapper Flo Rida. Among the players attending was LeBron James, who, wearing dark sunglasses and accompanied by Savannah Brinson, strolled in just moments before the start. The Rev. Frederick Allen, a minister ordained by Mansion Ministries of Miramar, Fla., officiated.
Carrying a bouquet of garden roses and white hydrangeas, the bride wowed the crowd in a strapless lace mermaid-style Vera Wang gown. After she and Mr. Haslem kissed four times as man and wife, they walked along a rose-strewn path to the strains of Tupac Shakur’s “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.”
The guests made some noise, as if the Heat had just won another basketball game.
But the happiest guest may have been the couple’s son Josiah, who breathed a long sigh of relief. “Finally,” he said, “we all have the same last name!”