Given 10 minutes to interview Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra one-on-one, I figured I’d have ample time to shoot questions coming from top Filipino basketball coaches.
So a day before the interview, I touched base with PBA coaches Ryan Gregorio of Meralco and Yeng Guiao of Rain or Shine, Boyet Fernandez of the D-League champion NLEX team and Norman Black of UAAP three-peater Ateneo De Manila, to ask if they had a question for the first Asian-American coach of the NBA.
By Sunday night, I had the questions written down, properly labeled and ready for asking the following day after the NBA Fit press conference featuring Spoelstra at the New World Renaissance Hotel in Makati.
Boyet wanted to know how Erik handles the three superstars in his team—Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, while Norman requested me to ask Erik if these three were high- or low-maintenance players.
Norman warned that the NBA coach might not answer the question, “but it would be nice to know how he really feels.”
“How do you deal with detractors who always pin the blame on the coaches who fail to bring the team to the promised land?
Ryan had a second question which was somewhat similar to Boyet’s: “Coaching three big name players—James, Wade and Bosh—can be a nightmare,” he said, “especially because you have to balance your attention with the other members of the team. How do you relate to the other members of the team to ensure equal treatment and keep the morale high?”
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Norman was right. His question wasn’t answered, and those of Boyet’s and Ryan’s concerning the three Miami superstars.
During the interview, a man named Jama Mahlalela, who sat a few feet from the interviewer, censored questions about the trio which was the interest of most local Miami fans, particularly because expectations from the team were high because of them. The fans also wanted to hear what he had to say about LeBron’s individualistic performance in the last two games.
It was later explained to me, not too clearly though, that the questions about players were not entertained because of certain legal technicalities which had something to do with the lockout.
All told, I was probably able to ask only a total of about three questions which were answered.
To start with, the time allotted was reduced from 10 to 7 minutes. Then Araneta PR Tessa Mangahas decided she wanted to sit in with me during the interview to ask a couple of questions.
I gave her permission to fire her questions ahead of me.
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Erik had lost much weight since his last visit to the Philippines, but he looked healthy and energetic. He credited the weight loss to his strict adherence to the NBA Fit program.
I suggested that it could also be due to the finals stress. He said it was both.
Erik admitted visions of the last NBA final series between the Heat and Mavericks still come to mind and he still feels the pain.
“The road to the finals is long, tough and full of ups and downs. Expectations from the team was very high,” he said, pointing out that one has to be able to deal with adversities since there are certain things which are beyond a coach’s control. This, in effect, was the answer to coach Ryan’s first question.
Guiao wanted to know if he would accept an offer to coach the Philippine team.
In so many words, Erik said he is very happy where he is right now.
That same afternoon, I dropped by the National University gym to watch coach Spoelstra in action.
One can’t help but admire the guy’s commitment, intensity, patience and energy level. Even NU sports director Junel Baculi and his staff were awed by the man’s dedication.
For two and a half hours amid intense heat, Erik taught and conducted the drills practically by himself, monitoring the athletes and correcting them individually. He was also shouting out the instructions for more than two hours. He really wanted the athletes to learn.