PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — It took Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a few extra minutes to make his way out of a Bahamian restaurant after a recent dinner, getting stopped several times by fans with photo requests.
He obliged them all.
After all, they weren’t calling for his head. Or throwing something at it, for that matter.
Guiding the Heat to the past two NBA championships may have changed perceptions about Spoelstra. But those titles didn’t change the 42-year-old who prides himself on doing the same things, with the same people, as he did before he won.
“It’s my personality naturally to try to fly under the radar,” Spoelstra said Thursday, the next-to-last day of Heat training camp. “That’s simply not realistic with this group. You have to understand that, you have to be OK with it and embrace it to a level where you’re comfortable. I won’t go out there and overexpose myself, but I do live my life and continue to do things I think are important.”
Like going out to dinner.
Much got made of the infamous bump Spoelstra got from LeBron James in 2010 as the Heat lost in Dallas and fell to 9-8 in the first season of Miami’s “Big 3” era. There were reports players wanted Spoelstra fired, that Pat Riley’s protege was over his head trying to handle a team with megastars like James and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Some when a step farther to voice their displeasure with Spoelstra.
“Three years ago people were throwing things at me, asking for me to be fired,” Spoelstra said, starting to tell the story of a time he was dining out in the Coconut Grove section of Miami.
He was seated outside at a cafe, when someone threw something at his table.
“Actually, my friend got hit by a piece of sculpture, broken-off sculpture that got thrown,” Spoelstra said. “They were trying to hit me, saying I suck, I should be fired. It went sailing right over my head and hit my buddy right in the chest.”
Spoelstra wasn’t fazed.
“It was hilarious,” he said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to come with me all the time.’ “
Spoelstra’s level of celebrity doesn’t work everywhere. He spent some time recently on the Oregon coast with his family, so many of his relatives made the trip that they ran out of space. A vote was taken to see who would sleep on the floor.
“Family keeps you very grounded,” Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra’s insistence that he’s a normal guy is somewhat comical at times. During an interview Thursday, while downplaying his celebrity, a spectator at Heat practice interrupted to tell Spoelstra how much he enjoyed watching him work.
That spectator was Perry Christie, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas.
“Spo’s a pretty private person, or as much as you can be in Miami,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “There’s a line. There’s a line and that’s what everyone’s learning in the digital age.”
The way the Heat go about their on-court business hasn’t changed much since Spoelstra arrived nearly 20 years ago to work in the video room. The style of play has changed in countless ways, but the franchise’s philosophies remain the same as they did when Riley — now the Heat president — installed them, and that won’t change on Spoelstra’s watch.
That said, he also knows his team. After 90 minutes of intense work Thursday morning, Spoelstra gave the Heat the rest of the day off, a reward that was appreciated.
“He just trusts us,” James said. “He trusts all the veterans that we’re going to do our work, if he’s around or if he’s not around. That’s the biggest thing, the trust that he has in us. We trust him, man. He’s come a long way, we’ve come a long way and it’s the best relationship we’ve had.”
Spoelstra wasn’t thrilled this week that it became known publicly that he got a new mult-iyear extension from the Heat, insisting he would just have preferred the details stay in-house. He’s not looking for fame and wasn’t looking for fortune when he started in Miami, and now that he’s got both, he sees no reason to change who he is.
“I keep it in perspective,” Spoelstra said. “So if somebody wants a picture now, it’s better than the alternative.”