A chat with Coach Spo

Coach Erik Spoelstra met with the local media Thursday afternoon. (Getty Images)

This morning, I attended a press conference at the Marriott Hotel at Resorts World Manila, in connection with the NBA's Larry O'Brien Trophy Tour.  The Head Coach of the reigning NBA Champion Miami Heat, Eric Spoelstra, was the featured guest.  After event host Chiqui Reyes called him in, Coach Spo greeted the crowd with a lively "Mabuhay!", and took his seat onstage, accompanied by the very same trophy that NBA Commissioner David Stern handed over to him and his team just a little over a month ago.  He greeted the host of media persons and representatives of corporate sponsors and expressed his delight at being back in the Philippines for the fourth time as an NBA ambassador, and fifth including his visit here with his family when he was still young.  He admired the trophy, saying that his luggage was a bit heavier this trip because of it.  His smile was infectious.  He is obviously a very happy man after leading his team to the NBA Finals crown.

Quickly, the question and answer portion began.  A young lady journalist asked Coach Spo whether he thought there was a Filipino who could make it in the NBA.  He said that he was certain it would happen, and that it was only a matter of time.  He watched Game 5 of the PBA Governors' Cup Finals last night at the Araneta Coliseum and said he tremendously enjoyed the game and its physicality and wants the series to go to a game seven.

When asked how winning the NBA championship has changed his life, he said that not much has changed and he hopes not much will.  He realizes he must keep his feet on the ground and stay humble, and that work only gets harder from here on, as his team fights to stay on top.  He did mention, however, that he has to wear a baseball cap more often nowadays when he leaves his house and walks out in public, to try and hide his identity, but he has not gone to the extent of wearing a fake mustache.

One reporter posed a question about how Spoelstra's being a Filipino-American has helped or hindered him in his ascent to being an NBA champion coach.  According to Coach Spo, he never felt that being a Fil-Am helped or hindered him along the way, stressing that hard work and perseverance are the keys that got him to his present position.  He did, however, acknowledge the fact that his being part Filipino has benefitted him and his team because the Filipinos overwhelmingly support them.  The Heat players, he said, are amazed at how much support the Filipino community has given them, mainly because their coach is half Filipino.  One line that Coach Spo sincerely delivered stands out for me.  He said, "My heritage is very important to me," with reference to how much he values his being a Filipino and how he loves coming here to be with his Filipino countrymen.  He hopes that his winning it all in the NBA opens up opportunities for Filipinos to succeed in the international basketball scene, including in the NBA.

UAAP Anchorman Anton Roxas inquired with Spoelstra about his getting into arguments with his players, such as what happened between him and Dwyane Wade during the Heat's playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in their recent championship run.  Coach Spo admitted that it happens from time to time and that he has to "choose his battles" since he's not that big and many of his players are huge individuals, and the most intimidating one, he said, has to be tough forward Udonis Haslem, a Heat co-captain.

When one lady requested Coach Spo to put together his own Dream Team, he pretended to write a list and to seriously think about his best five.  After a few seconds, he showed much love for his own guys, rattling off the names of Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade at the guards, this "up and coming player" named LeBron James and Haslem at the forwards, and "maybe this pretty good player" named Chris Bosh at center.

After a few more questions, the press conference was over and a few of us were whisked away to the second floor of the hotel to have a closer encounter with the champion coach.  As I waited in line, I was told I would be given about ten minutes to talk to him one on one.  Finally, the NBA Asia people summoned me over and I introduced myself to Coach Spo and, given the limited time, we immediately buckled down to business.

I asked him about Heat President Pat Riley's influence on his style of coaching.  He said that obviously Riley has had a significant impact on how he approaches the game and how he treats his players.  He did serve as an assistant with Riley prior to becoming head coach and learned a lot from the former Lakers, Knicks, and Heat coach, who won multiple championships in his day.

We chatted about the Heat's acquisition of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis during this offseason, as well as the acquisitions of other contenders like the Lakers (Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison) and the Mavericks (Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo).  According to Coach Spo, getting Allen and Lewis was not done to address a need for outside shooting, but an effort to make the team, as a whole, better.  The same goes, he said, for all the other teams.  The goal is to get better each season and acquiring new players is one method of doing so.

I asked about the importance of having someone like veteran Juwan Howard on his team.  Coach Spo thanked me for mentioning Howard and related that having Juwan on the roster was just as important as having the superstars, because his experience and high basketball IQ benefited everyone else on the team.

We talked about the ongoing London Olympic games and Spoelstra said that he's a fan of many sports, not just basketball, and while he has not been able to tune in much since he's been traveling lately, he will watch practically whatever sport is being televised.  As for the debate on whether the current US men's basketball team could beat the 1992 Dream Team, he would like to have some sort of time machine to enable the 1992, 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 US men's teams to play one another and finally end all the speculation.

Just as Coach Spoelstra and I were becoming good friends, a lady from his crew told me that my time was up and that the pretty reporter from another website was on deck.  I asked him one last question that one Yahoo! Philippines reader, Ariel Joseph Santos, suggested on the Yahoo! Philippines Facebook page, which was on whether he, like Riley for the Lakers in 1987, would guarantee a repeat for the Heat as NBA champions.  He didn't.

We are all indeed blessed to have someone like now-NBA Champion Coach Erik Spoelstra revisiting us and wanting to come back again and again, as he promotes the NBA, basketball, and the need for fitness, and continuously recognizes his Filipino heritage.  Despite his lofty accomplishments, he has remained humble and has not forgotten the path he took on the way to his current success, the struggles he encountered, and the need to continue achieving.

Coach Erik Spoelstra, mabuhay ka!

(Note: Coach Spo will have a live-chat with fans on Facebook this Saturday at 11:30AM. Visit this site for more details.)