The Heat leader: Erik Spoelstra passes Pat Riley on Miami games list
MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra still vividly remembers getting a short speech from his father, a sage piece of advice that came about a year into his time in the employ of the Miami Heat.
“Don’t screw it up,” Jon Spoelstra said.
Almost 25 years later, the mantra still applies.
Erik Spoelstra coached his 850th game for the Heat on Wednesday night, passing team president and Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley for the most in franchise history. Spoelstra is only the 13th person to coach at least 850 games with one NBA franchise; it’s happened 14 times overall, with Don Nelson reaching that threshold with both Milwaukee and Golden State during his career.
“My dad had been fired from a couple of different places and he knew the real NBA,” Spoelstra said. “He was saying it almost as such an exaggeration … just find a way to hang on with this guy, this Hall of Famer. And I guess the lesson to that is, I’m still just trying to hang on, trying to work for him for as long as I possibly can.”
New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry will coach his 1,000th career game Thursday when the Pelicans visit Oklahoma City, making him the 31st NBA coach to hit that milestone. Unless either Scott Skiles or Stan Van Gundy returns to an NBA sideline beforehand — they’ve coached 958 and 907 games, respectively — Spoelstra could be the next coach to join the 1,000-game club, sometime around the midpoint of the 2020-21 season.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade has spent virtually his entire career around Spoelstra, who was an assistant under Riley until moving into the top spot for the 2008-09 season. That means he’s heard just about every quote Spoelstra has to offer over and over and over again, lines about “identity” and “competition” and insisting that in any circumstance “we have enough.”
It took Wade a long time to understand why Spoelstra’s message rarely deviates from one year to the next.
“He’s consistent,” Wade said. “If you’re a parent, you understand that my kids need consistency from me and my wife. They need routines, they need all these things. It’s the same thing. It’s a big day care that he has in that locker room and he’s consistent with his message and how we do things.”
Among coaches with at least 10 years on the job, Spoelstra’s winning percentage — .595 — is eighth-best in NBA history. By the time this season ends, he should be in the top 30 for all-time wins. And he’s only 48, meaning his career might still have many, many more years left for him to add to his legacy.
Plus, he realizes how fortunate he is to be in a place like Miami, where the leadership group led by Riley and managing general partner Micky Arison values stability. Among current NBA coaches, only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich has been in his job longer than Spoelstra — who has seen 122 coaching changes in the league since Riley promoted him to the top spot on Miami’s staff.
“This coaching profession is extremely dynamic,” Spoelstra said. “It’s complex and I’m very grateful to have this opportunity with such an incredible organization. You don’t have it in pro sports. That’s why I try to do my very best and try to grow and get better and reinvent every year because I don’t want to let them down.”
That means he’s still listening to his dad’s suggestion, all these years later.
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