Miami Heat: Coach Eric Spoelstra Could Be a Legend in the Making

Benny VargasAnalyst IJune 1, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 21: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat during their game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 21, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

"I'm not saying I had a meteoric rise. But I did. And if they knew how much I was paying for my haircut now, they wouldn't be giving me a noogie. It was $200." -Ryan, The Office

That's what it must feel like to be Miami Heat Head Coach Eric Spoelstra.

Despite guiding a completely new roster filled with minimum contract players to the third best record in the league, Spoelstra finished eighth for Coach of the Year.

Granted, one could argue he had three of the league's best players but did he have a quality center, starting caliber point guard or bench depth?

In reality though it was just another disrespect paid to a guy that pundits and so-called experts feel was not ready to manage this team and its three stars.

Handicapped as he was, Spoelstra managed to guide this team to one of the league's best records while simultaneously getting three "Alpha Dogs" to buy into a team and defense-first mentality.

Remember that term "alpha dogs?" We heard it a lot during the summer, but it hasn't even been whispered in months. You have to give credit to him for that too.

You can best compare it to be the guy cutting the wires for a bomb squad. One wrong move and the whole thing could have blown up. Still, he managed to stay clear of all that, somehow balancing all of the challenges while shaping this new star-studded ensemble into a winning team.

And there have been plenty of challenges.

Think about it. Spoelstra has led the most hated team in sports and hasn't had any problems with fans, the media or referees. No controversial comments or feuds with league officials.

Can you imagine Stan van Gundy dealing with the backlash and constant spotlight? Granted it may have been fun, but it wouldn't have been very pretty.

Besides the microscope media coverage and public criticism, you have an NBA coaching legend casting an imposing shadow over you.

How many times were people clamoring for Pat Riley to walk in the door and say, "Alright son, give me the keys time for daddy to drive," and get back on the sidelines?

After navigating through all the potential pit falls and obstacles, Spoelstra now stands on the cusp of stardom.

Think about it. Who was Phil Jackson before Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen?  Who was Pat Riley before Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Answer: They were virtual nobodies in NBA history. Two guys who were solid as collegiate players, then became all but undistinguished NBA role players coming off the bench before retiring and being blessed with some of the best talent the league has ever seen. And that is when they rose to folklore status.

Well, Spoelstra was a four-year starting point guard in college, and while he didn't play in the NBA, he did spend 13 years learning the complexities of the league, organizations and the locker room.

He worked his way up the way we admire people to. From a video coordinator, to scout, to assistant coach and finally "The Man." 

In essence he is an American success story. Not in a rags-to-riches way, but if his NBA career was a horse race he would have been a huge long shot to say the least.

Yet now he is just three wins away from ascending from "Eric Spowhat?" to a household name.

Should Miami win the title this year, expect LeBron James along with Dwyane Wade to get the majority of the attention and praise. 

Now fast forward five years. Miami has won four titles, the players are entering the back nine of their career, where as Spoelstra's stock would be rising higher and higher.

The question then becomes, does he have the goods to make this transition from Joe Nobody to NBA coaching legend?

Like Dan LeBatard said on his radio show, "Eric Spoelstra is going to be Red Auerbach, Red "Auerpiggyback", he's gonna be Phil Jackson, "Phillipino" Jackson."

It's something that's easy to laugh at now, but that can all change based on what he does with this Miami Heat team the next six years.

Speolstra has an incredible amount of confidence. He's earned that based on what he's done the last three years. He took two of the least talented teams in Heat history to the postseason and overachieved with a roster that was Dwyane Wade and a bunch of one-year contracts,

He also has a fire that burns inside of him, but you rarely see it. Like a poker player, he shows and tells you little, and what he does offer up is only what he wants you to know.

Always taking an angle to keep his squad collected but on edge. Confident but hungry. He has instilled in them a commitment to defense and tenacity to compete regardless of their stat sheet numbers.

As a result, after a regular season of molding and pulling strings, you now see a team that has shown it can be tough and heated yet maintain their cool and composure. Just like their coach.

Hall of Fame coach Spoelstra? Who knows, but it's no longer out of the realm of possibility. In fact, Vegas would put the odds in his favor.

The pressure may get harder on the court in the future, but he has already endured the hardest part in terms of fighting the media and public perception.

He's also warded off Riley's shadow, basically ensuring the Pat will never coach again. He has cemented Riley's retirement and coaching career while launching his own.

While he may be almost famous in America, he is approaching rock star status in the Phillipines.

Spoelstra, who is of Irish and Filipino descent, has helped spark a great deal of interest for the Heat and this playoff run overseas. Along with seeing a big spike in domestic TV ratings, Miami is drawing big numbers in the Phillipines as well.

Could we one day see Spoelstra as an author of best selling motivational and leadership books?

Will he be seen endorsing countless products on television?

Time will tell if Spoelstra manages to get the same kind of recognition in America. Who knows? Maybe if his coaching career fails he'll be Manny Pacquiao's Vice President, but for now Spoelstra's stock is one on the rise, and definitely worth buying.


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