Spotlight on Spoelstra: Coaching the best

MANILA, Philippines - There is a sense of awe among sports media when Filipino American NBA coach Eric Spoelstra walks into a room. 

When he speaks, reporters hang on to his every word because they respect Spoelstra. Like most everyone else, they respect his talent, and they respect his team.

Case in point: all eyes are on the Miami Heat, as the NBA 2012-2013 season opens. Strong and still very much intact, the Heat is highly favored to repeat as NBA champions.

In an exclusive interview with Rappler, Spoelstra expressed his happiness about being with Miami, and "mak[ing] a living out of this incredible profession."

"I feel as if sometimes I have to pinch myself. I've been fortunate to be with the same organization for 17 years but also able to do something that I love," he said.

"I'm very passionate about the game of basketball. It's been very good to me. Obviously I don't take that for granted."

Spoelstra started off as a video coordinator of the Heat franchise in 1995, and slowly climbed the ranks over the years. He was named head coach in 2008, as successor of Pat Riley who became Miami's team president. 

Finding success

One of the league's youngest coaches, Spoelstra took home his first title as head coach in 2012 on only his fourth season, after the Heat dominated Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 in the finals.

He added that as head coach -- especially of a team that boasts some of the league's best talents -- he recognizes much is expected of him.

"I think to be a professional coach in the NBA you have to be a little bit of everything," he said.

In describing his own relationship with his players in Miami, he said he plays various roles, depending on the need as it arises. Spoelstra has the responsibility to lead them, but also finds himself addressing deeper personal problems.

"You have to be a coach, you have to define and provide structure and discipline at the same time, you have to be somebody who motivates, who encourages, part counselor sometimes, part motivator, part inspirator, part psychologist and you have to wear a lot of different hats."

"And ultimately you have to go through a lot of different things, a lot of ups and downs and everything in between," he added.

For Spoelstra, the team's most recent and most unforgettable 'down' was what he called the "2011 failure" -- Miami's disappointing performance in the 2011 finals against the Dallas Mavericks, which saw Dallas eventually win the title 4-2, despite Miami leading twice in the best-of-seven series.

Their biggest 'up' was easily their championship the year after, a feat accomplished by keeping top of mind the painful reminders of what went wrong the year before.

He showed them a video of the 2011 finals on the first day of practice of the 2011-2012 season, which compiled their plays, good and bad, and their heartbreaking reactions after their loss. He urged players to make promises to one another on what they would do in 2012 that they failed to do in 2011. And he promised his team in return that he wouldn't let them down that way again.

He hesitated when asked what made him successful in leading the Heat to victory, admitting he was unsure, but later explaining it depended largely on values.

"I think you have to earn your players' trust every single day and you have to do it by proving your work ethic, your integrity, prove you're reliable to them and ultimately you have to be competent that you can help them win," he said.


Among the players under Spoelstra's tutelage include what is widely considered the league's best "Big Three" made up of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and NBA's top player at the moment, LeBron James.

But Spoelstra admitted, dealing with egos of his superstar players is the part of coaching that "fascinates" him the most.

"Managing the different personalities and trying to get everybody on the same page, playing for the same goal… it's an elusive thing to do," he said.

"But when it happens, and you're able to climb the mountain together, I don't think there's anything more gratifying in team sports," he added.

And while Spoelstra appears to have accomplished just that in 2012, he acknowledged that he still has much to work on.

"It's not a perfected science for any coach even if you have a lot of experience, or you don't have much experience, it's something you have to continue, to try to improve your craft and I take a lot of responsibility with this job, and I try to improve every year I'm in it," he said.

Openly content with where he stands as the NBA defending champions' head coach, Spoelstra has repeatedly joked with reporters that he is already coaching what he considers his Dream Team -- the Heat's starting line-up.

Joking perhaps, but half-serious.

When asked who the one player he would like to coach is, Spoelstra barely flinched.

"LeBron James," he said with a smile.

Erik Spoelstra is exactly where he wants to be. -

Editor's Note: This interview was conducted on August 2, 2012 when Spoelstra visited Manila for the Larry O' Brien trophy tour.