In six years, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has accomplished what many coaches aren't able to attain in a whole career.
Yet this isn't about his two NBA Championships and four NBA Finals appearances. Nor is it about his adjustments to build a system around the strengths of the rosters he has every year. Spoelstra has proved himself year after year in getting results and you can see why he is often referred to as the "young Pat Riley." Most of this article isn't about stats or awards, but more of an observation that we can all relate to. Coach Spoelstra is the lead example of how one can rise through a company with time, patience, a little luck and a lot of persistence.
He started as a summer intern in 1995 and wasn't promised a job, but was offered one because Pat Riley contractually couldn't bring in his own guys. When he was hired, life didn't get any easier for him. His office didn't have windows, and was referred to as "The Dungeon." This is where he edited video all night for the team to showcase in the morning.
Spoelstra was promoted to director of scouting in 2001 and most of us remember this second part of his career in 2003 when he started to work out with a rookie named Dwyane Wade. One of Spo's notable accomplishments as an assistant coach came in the summer of 2004 where he was credited for the improvement of Wade's jump shot.
Remember how Wade played in 2006? That was in part because of what Wade and Spo did in 2004. His subsequent biggest triumph? Assistant coach of the Miami Heat for the 2006 NBA Championship.
Spoelstra could have easily accepted his role on the team as his final calling. Many of us would be comfortable once we're in ideal situations. It's hard to chase a promotion when you've already been promoted.
Spoelstra instead was relentless even after reaching the NBA mountaintop. Pat Riley saw this tenacity and in 2008, the summer intern who worked in a windowless room became an NBA head coach. In the press conference I remember Coach Riley referring to Spo as a man who was destined to coach, and I thought to myself: "Wow, Pat Riley said that about someone else?!"
You know the rest of the story but I'll remind you of the difficulties anyway. When the Big 3 formed in Miami, many thought Spoelstra inherited the easiest job in America. Instead, the job became difficult because the pressure turns up when the fame increases. After every loss, his coaching was questioned, followed by a list of names who could do it better than he could. Remember in 2010 the Heat started 9-8? Oh those headlines were merciless then. How about when losing to the Dallas Mavericks? Even worse.
Instead of listening to doubt, Spoelstra became determined. He came up with this idea of "position-less basketball" and the rest...well the rest is two NBA Titles and a Finals appearance every year.
We've entered a whole new era of Miami Heat basketball but it turns out Spoelstra is in Cleveland too. Has anyone studied how LeBron James has been acting there? Consistently preaching "patience" and how the NBA season "is a process." I can't wait for LeBron to get in the huddle and talking about never letting go of the rope. Sure, LeBron experienced a lot here in Miami, and the messages taken from Spo is one of them.
Spoelstra turned 44 today and you can call this article my one giant birthday card. For all of us that wish him a Happy Birthday, just know it's not just our coach's birthday, but a person who took just about every hand life dealt and turned it into high 5.
Happy Birthday Coach