Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra's Journey Through the Heat Organization

Matt BlueContributor IIMay 27, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts as LeBron James #6 look on in the background against the Chicago Bulls in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 18, 2011 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Whenever Heat coach Erik Spoelstra reflects on where he used to be and thinks about where he is today, he must truly be stunned and mesmerized by how far he has advanced in the Heat organization. This is such a surreal experience for him.

Coach Spo admitted to the media that during his quietest moments when he had the opportunity to sit down and ponder his future, he envisioned himself coaching high school or college teams. Never in a million years did he see himself being where he is today.

Erik Spoelstra is the most unlikely person you could ever imagine giving orders and shouting instructions to this star studded team. However, he is probably the best person for this job.

Coach Spoelstra has emphasized the importance of developing championship habits right from the get-go. His Band of Brothers theme has really resonated with this Heat team. He has remained mentally tough and he has kept his team prepared and confident throughout the season.

Spoelstra is a calm, cool and collected individual. That is why he was able to deal with the Heat’s early season struggles in a very calm and controlled manner. 

Through hard work, determination and dedication Spoelstra went from being the Heat’s video coordinator to coaching a dream team with two future Hall of Famers in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  Spoelstra’s journey was long, arduous and certainly humbling.

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Erik Spoelstra joined the Heat staff as the team’s video coordinator in 1995. He put in a tremendous amount of hard work in the Heat’s video room which has been famously regarded as “the Dungeon.”  Spoelstra isn’t even remembered as being the head video coordinator. That didn’t matter at all.

The fact is, Spoelstra impressed Hall of Fame Head Coach Pat Riley; who he worked for at the time, with his analytical ability and with his evaluation skills. Riley knew that Spoelstra was highly intelligent and witty.

As a result, Riley made a decision in which he will never regret. He decided to take the young and energetic former University of Portland point guard under his wing. He has been known as Spoelstra’s mentor ever since.

After two years in the video room, he was named assistant coach/video coordinator. The Heat organization just couldn’t stop promoting the witty and sharp Erik Spoelstra. In 1999, he was promoted to assistant coach/advance scout.

 He was known as the workout guru. He drilled the players during practice on the fundamentals and he was in charge of setting up drills. He helped many players evolve their individual games.

For example, he helped Dwyane Wade develop his jump shot and his outside shooting stroke. When Wade was drafted with the fifth pick by the Miami Heat in the 2003 NBA Draft, he didn’t have much of a midrange game. As a result, Spoelstra worked with Wade persistently in practice. You must give him a tremendous amount of credit for helping Wade become the player he is today.

He was on the Heat’s staff as an assistant when the Miami Heat won their first championship in the franchise’s history in 2006. Two years later, Spoelstra finally got his big break. In April of 2008, Pat Riley handpicked Erik Spoelstra to be his successor. The Heat had just concluded a 15-67 season which was the worst record in the NBA that year.

Even though Erik Spoelstra was fortunate enough to have a superstar caliber player and a one time NBA Finals MVP in Dwyane Wade, he certainly had his work cut out for him.

Erik Spoelstra did a remarkable job during his first two years as the Heat’s head coach. He was able to get a mediocre team to overachieve and he really got the most out of his players. Having Dwyane Wade also helped of course.

But he did a good job getting his players to buy into his defense first philosophy and most importantly he was successfully able to get his players to respect him.  The bottom-line is that players on the 2009 and 2010 squads wanted to play their hearts out for him.

In Spoelstra’s first two years, he guided the Heat to two postseason appearances and he was able to win 90 games.

When the Miami Heat hit the jackpot in 2010 by winning free agency, many people questioned Spoelstra’s ability to lead the new star studded team that was just assembled by the “Godfather” Pat Riley.

How could a young coach with zero NBA playing experience and with zero championship rings as a coach, earn the respect of three superstar players? How could he have any credibility whatsoever with these guys?

These were the two questions in which many people were pondering when LeBron and Bosh decided to join forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami. Wade convinced both LeBron and Bosh that Spoelstra was the right guy for the job.

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention or just in case you live in a cave or something, Miami just finished eliminating the Chicago Bulls fueled by an improbable come from behind Game 5 win. The Heat  punched their ticket to the NBA Finals where they will take on the Dallas Mavericks.  

In the Eastern Conference Finals, Erik Spoelstra completely outcoached this year’s NBA coach of the year Tom Thibodeau.

The Heat’s head coach did an excellent job designing set plays out of timeouts and he made some very smart defensive adjustments against Derek Rose. The Heat beat Chicago at its own game which is rebounding and defense. In games 2, 3 and 4 the Heat out defended and out rebounded the Bulls. Rebounding and defense was the Bulls bread and butter all season.

Coach Spoelstra referred to the series against Chicago as a “bloodbath due to the fact that both teams are ranked at the top of the league in many defensive statistical categories. Spoelstra may be very youthful and somewhat inexperienced but he has already proven that he can hold his own against the league’s elite coaches.

Erik Spoelstra achieved the American Dream by working his way up the coaching ranks. It is both remarkable and unprecedented for an individual to go from being a video intern to the head coach of a team that could go down as one of the greatest teams of all time. He has the most visible coaching position in all of sports and he probably has the hottest job right now.

Erik Spoelstra is living the dream. And nobody has worked harder to get where he is today than Coach Spo. The American Dream is still alive and attainable for anyone who seeks it. Just ask Erik Spoelstra himself.

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