Spoelstra evolving along with Heat
Pat Riley’s 34th playoff victory as coach of the Miami Heat
brought the franchise’s first championship. If Erik Spoelstra got
his 34th playoff victory in this year’s NBA Finals, Miami would
have another title.
That’s just one of many parallels between Riley – the patriarch
of the Heat sideline – and Spoelstra, his hand-picked
Spoelstra has been part of the Heat organization since 1995, so
there’s no shortage of ideas and ideals he’s taken from Riley along
those years. But those who would know say Spoelstra is far from
simply being a clone of the man who still watches over the Heat
from the president’s office.
”The game part of it, I think Spo does his own thing there,”
Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ”But definitely, the mental part of
it, just listening to how he talks and prepares a team, the Riley
fingerprints are all over that part. I mean, if you play for Riley
or work around Riley, he’s going to be a part of you for the rest
of your life. That’s just how it is.”
For the Heat, it seems to be working.
Four Spoelstra seasons, four winning records, four playoff
appearances and now two trips to the finals, with Game 3 of this
year’s title series Sunday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
His path is well-known – start in the team’s video room, eventually
become an assistant coach, take over as coach when Riley retired
for the second time, and after two seasons on the job see Miami
land LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade.
Not bad for the guy who didn’t think Riley knew his name when he
”Spo has been great,” said James, the NBA’s reigning MVP. ”I
mean, he’s been challenged the last two years by a lot of people,
but I think he’s been awesome. Two straight finals appearances, and
he’s put us in position to win each and every game. … We
understand what we like, our dislikes, everything of that nature,
but he’s been great. He’s going to continue to grow, and I hope I
can continue to grow around him.”
Spoelstra certainly has been challenged by a lot of people – his
two best players included.
When James and Spoelstra bumped into one another during a game
at Dallas in November 2010, it became a story line for months. When
Dwyane Wade started shouting at Spoelstra during a timeout huddle
against Indiana in this year’s playoffs, that incident became
perhaps as talked about as the outcome of the game itself.
For his part, Spoelstra shrugged both off, and quickly. By now,
Wade would have expected nothing less.
”Yeah, something was made of that blow-up in Indiana, but that
shows how our relationship has grown,” Wade said. ”We’ve been
together a long time. You don’t have those kind of moments if you
haven’t been together. It’s just like family members, just like a
brother. We have moments, but we love each other and we move on
from it, we grow from it. That’s the way we are. That’s the way our
Spoelstra has his way of handling it all. He isn’t ashamed about
latching on to certain words or phrases and repeating them
incessantly – outside expectations are referred to as ”noise,”
the favorite game plan is called ”playing to our identity,” what
gets talked about behind closed doors is ”our truth” and
questions about why one player gets minutes over another usually
elicits an answer of ”the rotation is the rotation.”
Somehow, he can mix being gregarious and guarded at the same
”It’s not that I don’t take other people’s opinions,” said
Spoelstra, who took a 31-22 career playoff record into Sunday
night. ”But if you haven’t walked in these shoes, it’s tough to
have the proper perspective.”
There was speculation earlier in these playoffs that Spoelstra,
who received a three-year contract before this season began, would
be in serious trouble if Miami had been beaten by Indiana or Boston
in the final two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Internally, there was no sense of Spoelstra being on the
so-called hot seat. Both Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison – who
rarely speak publicly about the team in-season – have raved about
the job Spoelstra has done since his first season, and Arison took
to Twitter earlier in these finals to point out Spoelstra is among
a small group of coaches who have taken their teams to back-to-back
finals appearances in the last 25 years.
”He’s been more open this year, allowing some players to voice
their opinion on certain situations, at practice or in a game, no
matter what the magnitude of the game is,” James said. ”We trust
him and he trusts us. At the end of the day, he has the last call
because he is the head coach, but as a player you love that fact
when a coach wants to hear or wants to feel what you may see out on
the floor during the game or during the film session. He’s been
Spoelstra doesn’t bristle at the Riley comparisons. (”Noise,”
it would fall under in his vernacular.)
He also doesn’t complain about having a Hall of Fame coach with
seven championship rings on his resume around the office every day.
Some would call that intimidating. Spoelstra calls it a gift.
”In terms of Pat, we talk all the time. All the time,”
Spoelstra said. ”It’s almost as if he’s a member on my staff. If
I’m not calling him, if I’m not bumping into him at the office, I’m
texting him. Our dialogue has been very good. It’s most relevant
with a team like this. He’s walked in my shoes before.”
And both of them have walked on the same sideline, on the same
The finals. Four years ago, Riley said Spoelstra was ready. Get
four wins in this series, Riley will be proven right.
”Riley was Riley for a reason,” Rivers said. ”He gets inside
of you. And you can see that with Erik. Riley’s inside of
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at