The Fil-Am Coach Spo-A A +A
Saturday, June 23, 2012
BEHIND the success of newly crowned National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Miami Heat is a Filipino-American. That’s what actually drew me to the Heat--more than their Big Three stars Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Yesterday, Erik Spoelstra officially became the first NBA head coach with Filipino blood to win an NBA ring.
Okay, Coach Spo is more American than Filipino, having been born and raised in the United States and having visited the Philippines only sporadically. But he has acknowledged his Filipino roots and visited a couple of years ago San Pablo City, the home place of his mother. He is more Jessica Sanchez than Charice Pempengco, but that’s okay.
Erik is the son of John Spoelstra, an American of Dutch-Irish descent, and Elisa Celino, a Filipina from San Pablo, which is in Laguna. He played basketball for four years at the University of Portland, then was playing coach of a German professional team before ending up as video coordinator of the Heat in 1995. His work ethic propped up his rise.
What exactly is a video coordinator? Kevin Arnovitz of espn.com had Spoelstra talk about this job in a June 1, 2011 article. "I was kind of like the concierge-slash-video coordinator my first year," Arnovitz quoted Spoelstra as saying. He edited videos of plays to be used as reference materials by the coaching staff. His office was the “dungeon.”
"That's what we called it," Spoelstra says. "It was in the bowels of the old Miami Arena. It wasn't even part of the offices. It was probably an old storage room. When they decided to make a video department I think they just cleared everything out, threw a couple of VCRs in there and said, 'OK, this is the video room.'"
It wasn’t the work he wanted, but it placed him in a position to be of use to an organization that would soon have one of NBA’s top former coaches Pat Riley as executive. It also taught him the value of technology, which has become useful in his team’s championship run.
"What [Spoelstra] did was prime the pump for 11 years, years of learning down in The Dungeon," Riley says. "Sometimes I think being a video coordinator and an advance scout prepares you better to be a head coach than just becoming an assistant coach. You're forced to look at X's and O's and so many things. He had such a great reservoir of basketball knowledge."
Riley would promote Spoelstra as advance scout in 1999, then assistant coach/director of scouting in 2001. Spo was one of the assistant coaches to Riley when the latter decided to take the head coaching job again, leading the Heat that had Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in its roster to its first ever championship in 2006. When Riley stepped down as head coach in 2008, he gave the job to Spoelstra.
I had followed the ups and downs of the Heat since then, especially when Riley snagged Lebron James and Chris Bosh from free agency in 2010 to form the team’s version of the Big Three. I don’t know Spoelstra personally but I know the Filipino character. I thought that if Spoelstra had it, he would succeed. I could sense it in this description of him:
“Spoelstra has traveled about as far an NBA lifer can--from The Dungeon to the first chair on the most scrutinized sideline in recent NBA history. But in many respects, his temperament hasn't really changed. The office might be cushier and he's no longer chasing cargo planes in the middle of the night, but he's still fundamentally the same guy with the same habits.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 23, 2012.