Tim Cone, a 24-time basketball champion head coach in the Philippines, had the unique opportunity of being part of the Miami Heat’s summer league coaching staff in California and Las Vegas the last two weeks.
This union was formed thanks to the 64-year-old Cone’s strong relationship with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, in part because of both tacticians’ connections to the Philippines.
Cone, who coaches the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA)’s most popular franchise Barangay Ginebra, is widely considered the “GOAT” for his massive achievements which dates back to his coaching debut in 1989 with the Alaska Aces.
Spoelstra, a two-time NBA champion, is half-Filipino. Although he hasn’t lived for extended periods in Asia’s most basketball-obsessed nation, his prominence there is never in question, so much so that Cone called his popularity “almost God-like.”
Miami’s head coach has also made an effort to connect with his other home country, often acknowledging reporters from there with the Philippines’ classic greeting of “Mabuhay.”
Next year Spoelstra, who’s part of Team USA’s coaching staff, will visit Manila, the Philippines capital and one of the 2023 FIBA World Cup’s host nations.
Many in the NBA consider Spoelstra one of the best – if not the best of all – coaches in the league and he’s played a large part in shaping the popular “#HeatCulture” their franchise has become known for.
Even if Cone has been acquainted with Spoelstra for over a decade, even if he read about what that culture required prior to this stint, and even if he also considers himself a disciplinarian coach, he was still surprised by the attention to detail Miami’s coaching staff prepares for in each contest.
“The Miami Heat is a really hard-driving team,” Cone said in an interview arranged by the Heat for media in his home country.
“They’re incredibly disciplined. They’re incredibly detail-oriented. I like to think I’m detail-oriented – I have that reputation back home – but it’s like me and them,” he said, displaying a gap between his arms.
“It’s a big difference. Their details go a lot deeper than my details.”
The process started when Miami gathered rookies, undrafted players, and other hopefuls in two days’ time to begin their California Classic campaign. There were four practices that took place in the following two days. Although rushed, the squad felt they prepared well enough for competition.
The Heat started their summer league campaign with two tough losses, rebounded to win two straight games, then dropped their next two – the latest a close crusher to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“They continue to stay the course, they continue to teach, and harp on the same things and drill it into the guys and they’re going to pick it up,” Cone said about the squad’s journey, which is led by head coach Malik Allen.
“Being a part of that and watching that progress has been an eye-opener for me.”
The work begins during the coach’s staff meetings, which is professional from the get-go.
“They just don’t talk it. They really live it,” Cone explained. “When you walk in a team meeting, guys can’t walk in with their slippers, you got to have your hats off. Coaching staff have to be in full gear.”
He added: “You have to walk in, sit down, and get really efficient. They do it and get out. The players really buy into it.”
It helps that Miami seeks specific players who will fit in their culture. Cone called them the “buy-in guys.” He joked that contrary to what some might believe, players’ body fat percentages aren’t checked every 15 minutes, but admitted there “is a lot of teeth” to the conceptions around what that “culture” entails.
“It’s one thing to be with the NBA; it’s a whole another thing to be with the Heat,” Cone said, almost amused. “The culture that they bring… it’s unique even in the NBA. Everybody talks about it.”
So much so that when he runs into his former players who are in Summer League – working different jobs now around the NBA – they seem impressed that from all teams Cone is working with, it’s specifically this one.
“‘Wow, you’re with the Heat? You’re kidding me, with the Heat?’” he often hears.
At the end of the day, however, “basketball is basketball,” which is something Spoelstra always tells Cone, too.
“You’re dealing often times with the same issues – how players get along, the teaching aspect. It’s very similar, but it’s very different.”
Cone departed Las Vegas on Thursday to return to his PBA team, which has lost two consecutive games in his absence and currently sit in 3rd place in the league standings.
The mentor with 24 rings isn’t concerned yet. After all, learning from growing pains along the way have often catapulted his squads to grander heights when the playoffs roll around.
And he’ll now have fresh concepts and learnings to bring to his team, even if the implementations might not come all at once.
“It’s really been indescribable,” he said about his time with the Heat.
“It’s been a busy time but the people here are just tremendous and they treated me like family so they made it really easy for me.”
Cone will always remember this period in his outstanding career as “amazing,” even if that word might not provide enough justice for how special it’s been for him.