Heat reach NBA Finals; spotlight shines on Fil-Am coach
SACRAMENTO, California—Filipino-Americans would probably consider Manny Pacquiao, Tim Lincecum and Erik Spoelstra, who share their racial roots as the Big Three when it comes to sports heroes.
Richer by $30 million after his lopsided victory against Shane Mosley in Las Vegas recently, the multititled Pacquiao, boxing’s biggest star, has since returned home.
Manny is back being a congressman and was last reported to be slugging it out fearlessly with his fellow legislators who favor universal access to artificial birth-control methods to stop the country’s runaway population growth.
Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, is off to a rousing start for the San Francisco Giants. One-fourth Filipino, the 26-year-old descendant of the De Asis family of Bellevue, Washington, would likely get casual attention from compatriots. That is until the Giants—baseball’s reigning World Series champs—become title contenders once more.
That leaves the spotlight to Spoelstra, who until three years ago was virtually unnoticed by basketball diehards among 1.1 million Filipinos and 11 million or so Asian-Americans who live in the United States.
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Erik started in the Miami Heat video room and by sheer hard work became an assistant coach, and now runs the show as the National Basketball Association team’s head coach.
He is the first Fil-Am and the first Asian-American to crack the head coaching ranks in any of the three major sports leagues—the NBA, National Football League and Major League Baseball.
The Heat came from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Chicago Bulls, 83-80, Thursday night (Friday morning in Manila) to win the Eastern Conference Finals. By engineering that amazing comeback, Erik remains on track to become the first ever Fil-Am and Asian to coach a major league champion team.
From the mailroom to the bedroom, Erik’s rise now finds him in one of the most coveted jobs in sports. The 40-year-old bachelor, whose mom, Elisa Celino hails from San Pablo, Laguna, is in an ultimate position of power while coaching three of the NBA’s biggest names—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
And because so much is expected from the talented Heat, millions of eyes worldwide are upon Spoelstra as the NBA Finals unfolds.
Hall of Famer Pat Riley, who entrusted Spoelstra the Heat’s coaching position in 2008, believes Erik handles pressure well and is ready to lead the team to a rematch with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
The Heat beat the Mavs for the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2006.
“He’s ready for this,” said Riley in a recent newspaper interview. “I think Erik’s ready for this. I think the last two years have really steeled him to being able to deal with all the aspects you have to deal with as a head coach. The pressure of just making the playoffs or making the fourth or fifth position, you feel the same kind of pressure as you would if you had to try to win a championship. He’s got all the qualities… All he has to do is coach the team.”
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Wade and Udonis Haslem, the only two remaining players from the old Heat team before Erik took over, are equally confident of their coach’s abilities.
“He understands that I love to play for him,” Wade told a reporter recently. “Erik’s the only coach I want to play for. Hopefully, when I leave this game, he’s touted as one of the best coaches the NBA has seen in a long time.”
“Erik’s a very intelligent coach,” Haslem said to a separate interviewer. “He’s going to prepare you for the game. If you go out there and don’t get it done, it’s not because you’re not going to be prepared. He’s one of the best basketball minds that I’ve been around, and I’ve been around a few good guys, a few good coaches.”
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