Miami Heat Basketball – Erik Spoelstra
Born: November 1, 1970 (age 41) Evanston, Illinois
College: University of Portland
1997–2008 Miami Heat (assistant)
2008–present Miami Heat
Coach – NBA Champion (2012)
When the clock struck 0:00 and Game 5 of the NBA Finals was finally over, one man danced and another stood with a smile on his face. In the confetti that rained from the clouds of American Airlines Arena, the latter already had what the former had just discovered, but few in the local media and the citizens of Miami had:
Faith in Erik Spoelstra as Miami’s coach and as their leader.
While arguably no player in the NBA has been under more scrutiny for not winning early enough in his career than LeBron James has, there is equally no coach in professional sports that has been under more pressure to win than Spoelstra.
What James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh slowly figured out after their loss to Dallas last season, their coach already he was the guy to lead them where they had always wanted to go all along.
Almost everyone has heard his story by now
The son of a Portland Trail Blazers executive, Spoelstra won a handful of games from 1988-92 as a four-year starting point guard at his hometown University of Portland, despite having inferior talent in the West Coast Conference against the likes of Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Loyola Marymount.
After three years playing in professionally in Germany, he found his way to the Miami Heat video room and became one of Pat Riley’s favorites due in large part to his work ethic and preparedness.
His time spent behind the scenes studying professionally and as a leader at the collegiate level prepared him for the challenges associated with juggling Miami’s Big Three.
In the past two years Spoelstra took shoulder blocks from James and survived grenades lobbed by Wade.
In these moments, nobody would have blamed him if he went public and called his two best players childish and accused them of not playing their their full potential. The average person would have walked away from the whole situation and looked for an easier coaching gig, but not Spoelstra.
He asked for what those that are seeking greatness always ask for: the chance to compete with the best while having the most advantages available.
James is without question the best player in basketball and Spoelstra knew it. He also knew that when James evolved mentally and that when the Heat finally handed him the reins in the coaching box and played for each other under his vision, the end result would resemble what transpired on Thursday.
Weeks and months ago as Miami fans called for the ax to his coaching throat and his players questioned his ability to lead them, Spoelstra chose not to address it, because he understood the course and that to chart it.
Additional time was required.
Evidenced by a contract extension given in December, Heat Owner Mickey Arison and President Pat Riley knew that the Heat needed Spoelstra to do what he has always done: consistently be the most prepared and hard working coach each game, protect his players from media scrutiny, and allow the Big Three to bask in the success.
On the doorsteps of 2012 failures, Spoelstra stayed true and kept the faith in a shaky Bosh-less second half of the season. Each time his players found themselves on the brink of breaking, they held together, kept the faith and found a way to win.
With each round in the 2012 playoffs starting with the second against the Indiana Pacers, LeBron slowly quit posing, Wade stopped talking, and Bosh started playing. The Heat were prepared to play each game and all of the rotation players sacrificed for each other.
Instead of talking about their future, Wade and James waited to bask in the success until the 16th occurrence of it in the 2012 playoffs, a 121-106 beat down of Oklahoma City.
Moments upon winning his first NBA title: James exclaimed: “Its about damn time!” Spoelstra meanwhile thanked Miami fans for their patience. The scripts featured the right words but with the wrong actors reciting the lines.
Spoelstra had every right to say, “It’s about damn time” for a lot of things: the way James played in the five games the NBA Finals, the way Battier, Cole, and Miller showed up, or the way the fans finally saw that the players were the ones in control along as they finally let Spoelstra lead them from the sideline.
He simply chose not to.
Although he graduated 20 years ago last month, perhaps it should come as a surprise that Spolestra’s alma mater’s motto is the “truth shall set you free”.
With diamond rings on the way and a championship banner on order by Arison and company, Spoelstra’s faith in the truth that he was the right man to coach Miami’s Big Three from the start of 2010 was every bit as critical as the team’s selfless play in 2012.
The Eastern Conference champions discovered that at the beginning of the month.
Two men were set free on Thursday as a result.