‘Spo’ takes over spotlight but gets hot seatBy Percy D. Della
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SACRAMENTO, California—The most recognizable person of Filipino extraction on earth these days is not boxing icon Manny Pacquiao or American Idol sensation Jessica Sanchez.
It’s Erik Spoelstra, the only Asian and Filipino-American coach in the NBA who is poised to become the first from his race to win the league’s Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
The 40-year-old bachelor, mentor of the Miami Heat, has taken over the spotlight from his better-known compatriots. In Erik’s case, the glare of celebrity comes with the hot seat.
Spoelstra’s Heat, without a cramping LeBron James in the crucial minutes, survived a 43-point onslaught by Russell Westbrook to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 104-98, Tuesday night and move within a game of their first NBA title in six years.
If history is on their side, the Heat should scorch the Thunder at home in Game 5 tonight (Friday morning in Manila). No NBA team in the past has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. No team has ever forced a Game 7 when faced with that scenario. Besides, Miami has won 96.1 percent of its games at home (10 out of 12) in the postseason.
But the young Thunder are known to boom back from adversity. Not lost on NBA fans worldwide is the fact that, after losing the first two games to the red-hot San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals, the Thunder won four straight to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in OKC franchise history.
To advance to the championship against the Heat, the Thunder went through the only three West teams to reach the Finals since 1998—the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio.
OKC has a mountain to climb. But knowing that basketball is a game of runs, the Thunder are hell-bent to break Miami’s stranglehold tonight. Then it could be smooth sailing with the last two games back home where they’ve only lost once (to the Heat) in the playoffs.
Meantime, the pressure is on Spoelstra to fire up a team built to win championships by team architect Pat Riley and deliver the O’Brien Trophy to team owner Micky Arison.
Last year, after Miami and the Big Three core of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh lost the NBA Finals to the Mavericks nasty talk swirled around Spoelstra.
Some thought Erik was a goner until Heat president Riley, who hired Spoelstra to replace him as coach in the first place, made the high regard for his protege very clear.
Riley said Erik, whose mother Celina is from San Pablo, Laguna, enjoys great rapport with the team and is the right man for the job. Riley has told the media repeatedly that there isn’t anybody in South Beach who wants Erik to succeed more than he does.
With that vote of confidence, Spoelstra has ignored the noise and venom and has fearlessly tinkered with his lineups, bench rotations, minute allocations and defensive matchups. Along the way, he found Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and even rookie Norris Cole who all have sparkled on the floor in support of his megastars.
But nothing beats the Big Three’s determination and its decision to turn deaf to criticisms of the past season.
James, Wade and Bosh appear to have taken care of their championship demons. They have snapped out of their funk and bolted into action like men with a mission this year.
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(FAREWELL, FRIEND: Master impersonator Willie Nepomuceno reports that a common friend and his UP Beta Sigma fraternity brod, Jun Leyco has died. Both Ilocano, Jun and I were kindred spirits at the news department of the ABS-CBN network in the late ’60s. That’s when I belonged to the newswriting team of “Newsbreak” producer Tony Seva— now retired after an illustrious career molding broadcast journalists. On the graphics side were Jun and his fellow Beta Sigmans—the late Ely Santiago, originator of Bacolod City’s Masskara festival and Rolly Reyes, who became president of the state television station.)
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Tags: Erik Spoelstra