For Erik Spoelstra, coaching these Miami Heat has always been a case in duality, the classic case of the gift and the curse, if you will.
Blessed with three of the NBA's top 20 players—including two of the 40 best players in NBA history—Spoelstra went into every game and every playoff series with a distinct talent advantage. At no point with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the floor do the Heat have fewer than three of the best five guys on the floor.
The curse of coaching that talent came with the Heat's infamously arrogant assemblance that created the greatest media firestorm surrounding a team in sports history. Couple that with Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley's looming presence in the front office and you've created the perfect storm to make the 41-year-old Spoelstra the fall guy for any Miami failure.
When the Heat were on the precipice of elimination, down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, one fan even went to far as to preemptively fire Spoelstra on the coach's Wikipedia page:
”Erik Spoelstra (born November 1, 1970) is an American amateur basketball coach and former head coach of the National Basketball Association‘s Miami Heat. He is the first and worst Filipino-American head coach in the NBA, as well as the first Filipino-American head coach of any North American professional sports team."
At this point, we all know how that worked out for that enterprising fan. The Heat are NBA champions after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, and there probably won't be too many visits to FireSpo.com in the coming weeks.
But even he isn't being chased out of Miami by an angry mob while people fork his yard anymore, this Miami championship still rings hollow for Spoelstra's reputation as a coach.
For most, this championship is seen as LeBron James' redemption, placing a moratorium on the unnecessary hate as the King finally gets to wear his crown after fully harnessing his talents down in South Beach.
The same cannot be said Spoelstra, who is still mostly viewed by the masses as an empty suit with a clipboard. He's the guy who lucked into superstars and got out bad coached (if there is such a concept) by Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks.
Nowhere in the Spoelstra narrative does it mention him expertly navigating the team injuries to Dwyane Wade in the regular season and Chris Bosh in the postseason. Nor does it say anything about the coach navigating Miami's lack of bench depth or personnel deficiencies at the point guard and center spots.
Down 0-1 in the Finals, Spoelstra went to Bosh and convinced the reluctant power forward to move over to center so he could start Shane Battier, whose hot hand had helped keep them in Game 1, at power forward.
The result: Battier shot 11-for-20 from beyond the arc in the series' final four games as the Heat became the first team to lose Game 1 of the Finals, then win four straight since the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers.
Even Spoelstra's acumen as a playcaller went underrated during the team's championship run. Despite the offense's penchant for relying on the LeBron and D-Wade isolation tag team, Spoelstra has an arsenal of plays to deploy when that isn't working.
As Grantland's brilliant Sebastian Pruiti points out, the Heat's "Elbow Stagger" set play was nearly unstoppable as the set perfectly meshed with each of the Big Three's strengths and preyed on Oklahoma City's shortcomings.
If all of that wasn't enough, Spoelstra made a secret move before the playoffs that reads like the script of a horribly corny sports movie: He presented players with a replica Larry O'Brien Trophy, according to the Miami Herald.
Molded rubber and black in color, the symbol served as a pact between the team throughout the postseason.
Each player signed the trophy, promising to play together as a team to reach the Heat's ultimate goal.
"Nobody, not even Pat knew about it," said LeBron James, the Finals MVP. "[Spoelstra] wanted to keep it between us. It was a testament to one another and didn't have anything to do with anyone else. It helped you refocus and let you know why you were here and playing for one another."
Despite the move's corniness, it served as a precursor to the Miami coach's quietly brilliant playoff run. It's about time he gets the respect he deserves.
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