Gilson’s Sports Guide: Erik Spoelstra has earned my respect

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches the action during the second half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game against the Boston Celtics Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Head coaching jobs have never been as unstable as they are in today’s NBA. If you fail to get your team to the playoffs within the first couple seasons, you’ll be looking for a new job before you know it, and even in cases where you do make the playoffs, it may not be enough to earn yourself job security in the ever-changing NBA scene. With all this in mind, it makes everything that Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has done during his career even more special, and could even earn him a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame when all is said and done. 

Spoelstra joined the Heat organization as a video coordinator in 1995, with nothing guaranteed after that one season. With a lot of hard work and a little luck, Spoelstra then earned spots as an advanced scout and director of scouting before becoming an assistant coach in 2001. He won his first title in 2006 with Dwayne Wade and continued up the ranks before finally replacing Pat Riley as the head coach in 2008.  

In his first two seasons with the team, Miami was nothing special, getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs each year. But as anyone who follows basketball knows, the summer of 2010 was a great one for Heat fans. Spoelstra and Riley brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach in what would be one of the biggest offseason moves in NBA history and set the table for one of the greatest big threes of all time to take the court. 

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra directs his team during the first half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game against the Boston Celtics Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

With the new trio, Spoelstra earned his second and third rings in 2012 and 2013 and solidified himself among great coaches. But I still wasn’t sold. There have been tons of cases where players have been carried by their coaching, and even more when the coaches were carried by simply having the best players, and I wasn’t sure it was Spoelstra’s coaching that earned them the title. This doubt was only confirmed when LeBron headed back to Cleveland and Spoelstra was forced into rebuilding mode. 

In his next five years as the head coach, the Heat would try a multitude of rosters and personnel, missing the playoffs entirely three times. But this past offseason, Spoelstra once again flexed the recruitment and scouting prowess he learned during his first six years with the team, and brought in a 2019 squad that looked like it could compete. Drafting Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and signing the leader of the team Jimmy Butler in the past few seasons have allowed this team to take major strides, but even the experts couldn’t have predicted just how good Miami would be. 

The Heat’s 2019-2020 team ran the same system any team does when Butler is your best player; one reliant on intensity, grit and hard work. The defense was always supposed to be a good one, but with rookies Herro and Nunn added in the draft, the offense went to new heights as well. By season’s end the Heat had earned the five-seed and already turned some heads, but people still doubted they would make it far with tough matchups early in the playoffs. But that grit and hard work that had been instilled throughout the team during the season shone through in crunch time, and now the Heat find themselves in the NBA finals for the first time since 2014, facing none other than the man that got them there the last time, LeBron James. 

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra argues a call with officials during the first half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Unfortunately for the Heat, the injury bug struck at the worst time, as they are now without Adebayo and Goran Dragic. And while this doesn’t bode well for a series in which they are already down 2-0 at the time of writing, it should not take away from the incredible feats this team has accomplished this season. But whereas the titles in 2012 and 2013 were due largely to the personnel, I think this year’s title run is because of Spoelstra, the culture he has created and respect he has earned from his players that has gotten them to this point. 

Spoelstra has spent 15 years as a part of the Heat’s organization. He has gone through the highs of an NBA title and the lows of not making the playoffs at all. He has coached a team full of All-Stars and teams without any big name players. But through it all he has learned, grown and flourished into one of the greatest coaches in today’s NBA, even if he won’t have the title to show for it at the end of this season.  

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