Spoelstra's path to NBA coaching contract like none other
NBA

Spoelstra’s path from Miami Heat video room to a contract like none other

03:55 PM January 12, 2024

Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat speaks during a press conference after the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 103-84 in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 29, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.

FILE–Head coach Erik Spoelstra. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images/AFP

MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra was hosting a clinic in the Philippines, his mother’s homeland, this past summer while the Miami Heat coach was there as an assistant with USA Basketball for the World Cup. A few dozen kids finished the workout, then got to ask him whatever they wanted.

One asked about his longevity with the Heat. Over the next few minutes, Spoelstra talked about friendships, loyalty and how fortunate he is that the Heat — the team he’s been with for almost 30 years — value stability.

The latest reminder of all that came Tuesday with Miami signing Spoelstra to a history-making deal spanning eight years and worth roughly $120 million, the biggest contract in terms of total salary ever given to an NBA coach and one that illustrates how vital the Heat believe he is to the operation.

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“Pat Riley is a legend in the game,” Spoelstra told those kids in Manila, speaking of his longtime boss and the Heat president. “And he believes in loyalty. I probably would have been fired a few times with another organization. So, I’m very grateful for that. We’ve tried to build a culture of family and a culture where we trust each other, where we’re sacrificing for each other and where we’re serving each other.”

The formula obviously works. Spoelstra guided Heat teams to the playoffs in 12 of his first 15 seasons as coach, getting to the NBA Finals six times — including last season — and winning championships in 2012 and 2013 with teams led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

“In this business, you also just want to work with great people that are well-intentioned,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. “There’s going to be ups and downs in this business. We enjoy the process of trying to do special things. But we enjoy being around each other. And we’ve had some tough times and tough years and that’s when we’ve really rallied around each other the most. I grew up in the NBA business so I understand how unique that is. And that’s why I feel a great responsibility to be a caretaker for this culture, now and moving forward.”

Only San Antonio and Boston have won more regular-season games than Miami since Spoelstra took over for Riley in 2008, and no team in that span has won more playoff games. Spoelstra is 19th all-time in regular-season victories (725 entering Wednesday) and fifth in playoff victories (109, not counting a play-in tournament game win last season as well). He’ll be an assistant on Steve Kerr’s USA Basketball staff that will try to win Olympic gold in Paris this summer and is widely expected to be a top candidate when it’s time for the Americans to pick a head coach for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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“Worth Every Single Cent of that contract!!!” LeBron tweeted on Tuesday.

Wade offered a similar sentiment: “Spo!!!!!!!!! Earned!” he wrote, with eight moneybag emojis in there as well.

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Spoelstra’s contract was ending after this season, which isn’t a good sign in most places. But in Miami, that doesn’t mean anything. Contracts for coaches and executives within the organization are hardly ever announced; it’s just assumed that everybody stays put year after year.

The names atop the staff directory have barely changed since 1995, and in some cases since the team’s inception in 1988. Micky Arison is managing general partner, son Nick Arison is CEO, Riley is president, Andy Elisburg is general manager, Adam Simon is assistant general manager. Elisburg has been there since the first season, along with broadcasters Eric Reid and José Pañeda, team ambassador (and former assistant coach and broadcaster) Tony Fiorentino, chief financial officer Sammy Schulman and vice president of marketing Jeff Craney.

Spoelstra — whose father, Jon Spoelstra, was an NBA executive with Portland, Denver and New Jersey — was a standout high school guard in Oregon, then played at the University of Portland, where he was the West Coast Conference’s freshman of the year. After college, he spent two years playing professionally in Germany, before the Heat called with their offer to work at the lowest rung of the organization.

Team President Pat Riley of the Miami Heat

FILE–Team President Pat Riley of the Miami Heat is interviewed by Stuart Scott as head coach Erik Spoelstra, LeBron James #6 and team owner Micky Arison in Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 21, 2012.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images/AFP

He was 24 then. He’s 53 now, his well-chronicled path starting in the video room (Riley didn’t know his name at first) to scout to assistant coach to head coach to champion and, surely, a Hall of Famer one day. Jon Spoelstra told his son long ago to not leave the Heat, and the eight-year deal is just another sign of Miami’s stability.

“He’s precise in what he wants and how he’s going to go about doing it,” said Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley, who has known Spoelstra for decades and worked with him in recent years with USA Basketball. “The way in which he develops guys, the chemistry that he creates in that culture over there, is at a high level. And the thing that has stood out to me the most is that the stability that he has with that organization, and the support and the trust that he has from top to bottom — and not just with the players. I think that goes such a long way.”

Spoelstra starts each day with some quiet meditation, then ends each day by jotting a few notes in a gratitude journal. There’s much to be grateful for, he’s found, and much of it goes back to the loyalty that is part of the Heat organizational fabric.

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Not bad for a guy who, in his own words, didn’t know much of anything when he got that video room job in 1995.

“If you talk about stability, every franchise in pro sports throws those kinds of terms — stability and family, consistency, continuity — everybody throws that out there,” Spoelstra said. “But very few actually execute it.”

TAGS: Erik Spoelstra, NBA

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