Jun 21, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra on the sideline against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter of game five in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and even Mario Chalmers are getting a lot of credit for the Miami Heat winning the NBA title on Thursday night, but let's not forget the unenviable job Erik Spoelstra did in helping his team get here.
The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are getting the majority of the accolades after the first of what might be many championships for the Miami Heat, but they didn't do it alone. This column isn't going to be about how Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers stepped up, though. This is about the man most forgot about Friday morning or, worse yet, the man labeled as a simple "figurehead" in a player's league.
Erik Spoelstra has shouldered quite a bit of blame throughout his time as head coach of the Heat, but there was nary a mention of him when the major scribes were penning their stories for Friday morning. Of course, the LeBron James redemption story is great, and the ridiculous upside of the Oklahoma City Thunder is still a compelling column, but Spoelstra's brilliance from the bench shouldn't be overlooked (in fact it should probably be immortalized in an Alabama remix, but that's for another column).
Plenty of people assumed that Spoelstra wasn't the right man to coach Miami when the Heat unveiled their Big Three of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, because young Spo wouldn't be able to handle the egos and manage the players. They'd run right over him, the pundits thought, and Pat Riley would come out of the stands at the rescue of the recluse. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith was hardly the only one that criticized Spoelstra, but his comments after Spoelstra sat Chris Bosh in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals demonstrate the disrespect Spoelstra received.
"Let me say something to Erik Spoelstra, the head coach of the Miami Heat, directly. Fair is a place where they judge pigs. In other words, it doesn't exist, nobody cares about it, and when there's an NBA Finals berth on the line, certainly nobody wants to hear about it."
But Spo grew with this team and made them a team, really. For those that watched the brotherhood shine through during the postgame happenings on Thursday night, Spolestra was obviously an integral part of getting the franchise its second championship. He seemed to take a blue-collar approach to a white-collar team, but in the end it worked.
While the players are able to make plays -- and the Big Three make those plays spectacular -- it was Spoelstra who put guys in position to do what they were able to do. It was Spoelstra who drew up the attacking defense that led to the easy offense. It was Spoelstra who stormed through the criticisms that he couldn't handle head coaching duties after run-ins with his stars. It was Spoelstra who recently outcoached Scott Brooks, Doc Rivers and Frank Vogel on the way to an NBA championship.
Spoelstra, the first Filipino head coach in any of the major American sports, does a lot more than look goofy in backwards hats and talk fluently in cliched coachspeak, so it's time he gets a bit of the credit. The players Spoelstra has at his disposal certainly don't hurt his chances of success, but the fact that the Heat were able to overcome all of the scrutiny while reaching their potential was due in large part to those not actually wearing a jersey with HEAT across the chest.
Had Spoelstra been unable to exploit the matchup problems or if he wasn't as confident as he was that players like Shane Battier and Mike Miller could spread the floor and become unlikely options on the offensive end, Miami likely wouldn't have been able to dispatch Kevin Durant and the Thunder in five games. The first four games were very close. If a few plays would have gone the other way, the outcomes of the series could have gone the other way as well.
Instead, though, LeBron James has his first NBA title, and the Big Three Era is upon us. While celebrating King James, Wade, Bosh and everyone else, let's not completely forget that Spoelstra had a huge hand in making everything possible against seemingly impossible odds.
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