Erik Spoelstra is the classic example of a man who over the years, worked his way to the top through promotion after promotion. There seems to be this misconception that Spoelstra is some fresh young face in terms of NBA coaches but in reality, this could not be further from the truth.
Spoelstra spent a few years overseas with a professional basketball club in Germany shortly after graduating from the University of Portland in 1992. He then took an internship as a video coordinator with the Miami Heat in the summer of 1995.
After spending two years working as the video coordinator, Spoelstra was promoted to assistant coach in 1997. He would spend the next decade-plus working alongside head coach’s Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy.
It was the 2005-06 campaign when Spoelstra’s work as a coach truly started to get recognition around the league. He helped the Miami Heat capture their first World Championship in 2006 when they defeated the Dallas Mavericks in an epic six-game NBA Finals.
In April of 2008, Pat Riley stepped down and officially named Spoelstra head coach of the Miami Heat. The Heat have made the playoffs in each of his six seasons as head coach while posting an incredible 314-162 overall record.
Spoelstra has led the Heat to the NBA Finals in each of the past four seasons, capturing back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. Even more impressive is the fact that he has coached in five of the last nine NBA Finals.
What most NBA fans fail to realize is that while he is one of the youngest coaches in the league (43 years old), Erik Spoelstra is also one of the longest-tenured current coaches as well, second only to Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
The pressure of being a coach in professional sports has never been higher… the statistics prove it. Last season alone (2013-14) saw thirteen newly appointed head coaches in the NBA. This upcoming season will consist of nine additional head coaching changes around the league.
Unlike past generations, coaches do not have much of a leash within their organization unless they have earned the respect everyone involved (owner, players, coaches, fans, etc.). Gregg Popovich has been the coach in San Antonio since 1996 (almost 18 seasons), 12 more seasons than the next closest coach (Spoelstra) has been the head coach in Miami.
Spoelstra’s tenure as the Miami Heat head coach is often underappreciated because of the star power the roster has been filled with in recent years. People assume that your job is easy when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh are on the unit.
Having Hall-of-Fame bound players is great and all, but you could not simply put any coach in that situation and expect them to succeed. With bigger-named athletes comes bigger egos – potentially less freedom calling the shots – surly more pressure to win every single night.
I remember all the fans and sports networks calling for Spoelstra’s job less than a month into the first season of the Wade/James/Bosh era in 2010. That year the Heat got off to a slugging start and played .500 basketball for the first few weeks of the season as they adjusted to one other inside the locker room and quickly became the most hated team in sports outside of it.
Ultimately, the Heat righted the ship and stormed through the Eastern Conference and came up just two games short of winning the NBA Finals. Naturally, the general consensus was that Spoelstra had nothing to do with the Heat’s success until that point but when they lost, it was all on him. Talk about a no-win situation.
I guess that’s just the kind of thing any head coach who lasts must go through. I’m sure there were times people were calling up radio stations in San Antonio blasting Popovich claiming that he couldn’t coach and that there was somebody else better for the job.
Before the Big Three came to Miami, Spoelstra led the Heat to consecutive 5th place finishes in the Eastern Conference despite only having one legitimate All-Star caliber player on the roster in Dwyane Wade. He was a good head coach back then just learning the ins and outs of what it takes to make it in the NBA as a leader – he is an even better one now.
There is little reason to believe Erik Spoelstra’s tenure as the head coach of the Miami Heat is going to end anytime soon. Let’s just hope Spo starts to receive the national respect he deserves as he continues to build on an already historic coaching résumé.