NBA Finals 2013: Is Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Latino? The Answer Is Revealed Here
Despite having never played basketball at the professional level and only one previous coaching stint, as a player-coach with a German mid-level basketball team, success has come quickly for 42-year-old Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Spoelstra has transitioned into the head coaching role nicely; from juggling personalities like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Chris Andersen to guiding the team to three straight NBA Final appearances, including winning the title in 2012. He has also adjusted to being in the Miami spotlight, currently dating former Miami Heat dancer, Nikki Sapp.
And while it may be easy to confuse Spoelstra as one of the 1,623,856 Hispanic residents that live in the Miami area (64.5 percent of Miami), Spoelstra traces his roots back to the Philippines - a former Spanish colony - making him the first Asian-American coach in NBA history to win a title.
Spoelstra has visited the Philippines, August of 2012, as part of the NBA FIT program - which promotes healthy lifestyles and helps globalize the game.
"It staggers our players how popular the NBA is here, 10,000 miles away," said Spoelstra. "The world is changing. We are seeing that race and heritage doesn't matter."
Basketball has always been in his blood, as his father, Jon, was a National Basketball Association (NBA) executive for the Portland Trailblazers, the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and the New Jersey Nets. Jon was so valued by his NBA peers, for his marketing skills, particularly for helping the Nets sell out home game during the Derrick Coleman era, that he was traded by the Pacers to Portland for guard Don Buse for a few weeks of marketing and public relations consultation.
Before his senior year of high school, Spoelstra managed to land a spot on Sonny Vaccaro's Nike All-Star camp in Princeton, New Jersey, playing alongside the likes of Alonzo Mourning, Shawn Kemp, and Bobby Hurley.
"I got absolutely annihilated at camp by a skinny white kid who was a year younger than me," said Spoelstra of going one-on-one with Hurley. "I remember after that camp, going home and thinking, 'I'm not nearly as good as I thought I was' and 'I don't know if I had a future in college basketball, because this kid kicked my ass.'"
Spoelstra did end up earning a basketball scholarship despite getting embarrassed by the future Duke Blue Devil point guard, signing with the University of Portland, winning the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year award in 1989 and finished his career as the Pilots' third all-time leader in assists (488), tied for fifth in three-pointers made (156), sixth in assists average (4.4), seventh in free throw percentage (.824), and 10th in three-point percentage (.384).
Spoelstra was also on the floor when Loyola Marymount's star Hank Gathers died on the basketball court, just a couple of yards away from him.
"The sadness about it, it was a life taken away, that was so brilliant," said Spoelstra. "He was an incredible basketball player that really would've made a mark in the NBA and no one really got a chance to see that. Obviously way too young for somebody to pass away."
Spoelstra wanted so badly to continue being around the game of basketball that he took a job with TuS Herten, a Pro-B level German professional basketball based in Westphalia, as player-coach as well as coaching the team's junior squad.
"What that really means was the head coach and I would go get some beers and talk basketball and I'd bring the basketballs to practice," said Spoelstra.
Through his father's NBA contacts, Spoelstra landed a temp-job with Heat, working in the film room at the time Pat Reilly left the New York Knicks for Miami. The temporary gig turned into a full-time job, as the front-office was in transition adjusting to Riley's arrival. The funny thing is Spoelstra didn't know a thing about coordinating video, editing video, or the coordination of video editing.
"I was kind of like the concierge-slash-video coordinator my first year," said Spoelstra. "I just figured I wanted them coming to me with as many different things as possible to lean on, whether it was basketball-related or not. I wanted to be the guy who they'd pick up the phone and say, 'He'll get it done.'"
Spoelstra's hard work paid off, going from the video room to assistant coach-advance scout in 1999, to assistant coach-director of scouting in 2001, to Riley's successor in 2008.
"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," said Riley. "You're forced to look at X's and O's and so many things. He had such a great reservoir of basketball knowledge."