NBA Finals 2013: Erik Spoelstra travels long path to being 2-time champion


There will be people that will downplay Erik Spoelstra's coaching accumen even after his second straight championship. Those people should stop.

The coaching legacy of Erik Spoelstra has steadily improved during his short time in the eyes of the national media, but Thursday's night victory in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals likely cemented his legacy as one of the better managers of talent, if not just basketball coaches in general.

There aren't a lot of coaches that have been able to do what Spoelstra has already done in his career. In fact, just 13 coaches in NBA history were able to win more than one championship over the span of their career (including Spoelstra's boss, Pat Riley, as well as the man he beat in San Antonio Spurs opponent Gregg Popovich).

To be included in such elite company after his quick rise from the Heat film room to the bench should be enough for fans to give Spoelstra credit as one of the better bench bosses in the league, but that wasn't the case after last season's championship -- despite your's truly writing that he'd redeemed himself -- and probably isn't going to be the case now ... even after leading Miami to a second title in as many seasons.

See, with Spoelstra, he's always going to have to deal with people that believe it's the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that allowed Spoelstra to be added to an impressive list that includes Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Riley, Chuck Daly, Bill Russell, Rudy Tomjanovich and John Kundla as the only coaches to win back-to-back NBA Championships. All of those coaches had their share of stars, though, and the fact that Spoelstra was able to do it in this day and age with his level of relative inexperience? That just makes this feat all the more impressive.

Spoelstra began his work in the NBA as a video coordinator with the Heat, slowly working his way up to be able to put the inglorious positions of "Assistant Coach/Video Coordinator," "Assistant Coach/Advance Scout" and finally "Assistant Coach/Director of Scouting" on his business cards before taking over for Riley as head coach of the Heat bench in 2008.

Simply being named the head coach could've been the crowning achievement for Spoelstra considering he became the first Asian/Filipino-American head coach in any of the four major sports when he earned his new job title. Spoelstra overachieved, though, somehow taking a team that won just 15 games the season before he inherited them and turning the team into a perennial favorite.

Of course it hasn't all been Spoelstra, as the Heat front office brought in the Big Three and surrounded them with some solid veteran role players. But to say Spoelstra doesn't deserve any credit would be a huge disservice to the coaching industry as a whole. Not only is Spoelstra known for his intricate knowledge of the game, intense scouting reports and the in-depth use of technology that he uses to improve his team on the court, but the simple fact that he's been able to handle having three great players on his roster without any blow-ups is an achievement in and of it self.

Professional athletes aren't typically going to give young coaches without a lot of experience credit when it comes to being told what to do, but Spoelstra has been able to earn the respect of some of the greatest players to ever play the game. It's paid off with back-to-back championships.

Spoelstra hasn't always made the right moves, of course (most recently moving Mike Miller into the starting lineup, forcing San Antonio to go small and insert Manu Ginobili into their own lineup, causing huge problems in Game 5), but he hasn't been afraid to make the adjustments he feels are best for the team, even if they likely aren't all loved in the locker room.

Coach Spo may never be able to improve upon the legacy he's set up for himself following Thursday night's victory because he really might be a product of the Big Three. That shouldn't preclude him from getting credit for the achievements he's already accomplished, however, because he's been a living example of good things happening to good people that work hard and pay their dues to get where they want to be.

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