MIAMI – Charlie Westbrook's first NBA game started with him sitting on the floor with other rookies, because the Miami Heat veterans and coaches were taking up the alloted row of sideline chairs.
It wound up with him in the scoring column.
For the longest of long shots in this Heat preseason, that ensures there will be a moment to savor.
Even though it won't officially count, Westbrook can say that he scored in an NBA game. After missing his first five shots — three from the field and two from the line — Westbrook made a free throw with 13.1 seconds left, the final point in Miami's 92-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks in the preseason opener for both teams on Monday night.
"I was more excited and ready to get rolling more than nervous," Westbrook said. "I don't really get nervous. Some players say they do, but I think I get more fired up. It was good to be out there and good to be competing against other NBA-caliber guards."
Westbrook was the last player signed when the Heat were filling out the traditional 20-man preseason roster, and knew when he arrived that the numbers game was going to be seriously stacked against him. Most of the players who helped Miami win the last two NBA championships are still with the team, and other newcomers include Michael Beasley, Greg Oden and Roger Mason Jr.
The Heat can only keep up to 15 players for the regular season. Westbrook knows that it would take not just one miracle, but several miracles, for him to end up on that list.
"You have to have amazing belief in yourself and you have to be an optimist," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "You have to be optimistic that what you show in camp, what you show in a game, someone will say, 'You know what, we're going to give this kid a shot.' It takes amazing fortitude."
Westbrook started his college career at Iowa Western Community College, transferred to South Dakota for his final two collegiate seasons, went undrafted in 2012 and spent his first pro season in Italy.
When he heard that he had the invite to join the Heat for camp, he was ecstatic. And when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told Westbrook to get up from his seat on the floor and get ready to go in, the excitement really started.
"It hit me quick," Westbrook said.
Battier was watching from the bench when Westbrook got his point, which came after a harried few minutes when the Heat backups — and some backup backups — wasted most of what was a 22-point lead with about 9 minutes left, allowing Atlanta to get within two in the final moments.
"You want young guys who may be facing a difficult roster situation to have a positive experience and if nothing else, whet their appetite and show them what this thing's about," Battier said. "You never know when your next chance may come."
Westbrook missed two free throws with 1:22 left, then a jumper, then airballed a 3-pointer. And while all that misfiring was happening, the Hawks got to 89-87.
"It's tough when you're playing at the end of the roster like that in the fourth quarter," Spoelstra acknowledged.
In the end, the Heat got a win that probably no one will remember, and Westbrook got a point that he'll probably never forget.
"I'm trying to get closer to the veteran guys, learn their system and learn things I don't know yet," Westbrook said. "For me, that's the easiest way to flourish, to show the Miami Heat that I want to be a part of their organization, and-or other teams if that's the opportunity that presents itself."