Erik Spoelstra arguably has the second-toughest job in America, and the only person who has more pressure on him to perform and please everyone is Barack Obama.
Much like the president of the United States, the 41-year-old head coach of the Miami Heat is constantly second-guessed and the expectations are above and beyond anyone could ever imagine. Everyone expects the Heat to win a title, and when they lose a game it seems like the vultures start circling over Spoelstra’s head.
Spoelstra, who is the first Filipino-American to coach in the NBA, took a ton of heat for failing to deliver a championship last season and if he doesn’t win a championship this season you know he will certainly hear it from experts and basketball and fans to call for his resignation.
He heard it during the Heat-Pacers series when his team got down 2-1 and he heard it when the Heat got down 3-2 against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
But all that nonsense — Spoelstra terms it “noise” — that surrounds him doesn’t bother the former Heat video coordinator. He knows it comes with the territory of being the coach of the championship-or-bust team, and he embraces the challenge.
“I think Spo has been great. He’s been challenged the last two years by a lot of people, but I think he’s been awesome,” LeBron James said about his coach.”
“I mean two straight Finals appearances, you know. He has put us in position to win each and every game,” James continued. “For me our relationship has grown over the last two years. Because we’ve been around each we know what we like and our dislikes.”
The biggest adjustment Spoelstra has made this season is listen. He openly admitted that he communicates with Heat president Pat Riley and is not ashamed to ask the Hall-of-Famer for advice.
“We talk all the time. It’s almost as if he’s a member of my staff,” Spoelstra said. “If I’m not calling him or bumping into him at the office I’m texting him. Our dialogue has been very good.”
His dialogue and open communication with his players has also improved and that fact is not lost on the team’s most valuable player.
“He’s gonna continue to grow and I hope I can continue to grow around him,” James said. “I think he’s been more open this year and allowed some of the players to voice their opinion in practice or in games, no matter what the magnitude of the game is. We trust him he trust us.”
James added, “At the end of the day he has the last call. As a player you love the fact that he wants to hear what you see out on the floor during a game or in the film session.”
Spoelstra’s ability to have a bunker mentality, a thing he preaches to his team this postseason, affords him the luxury to remain calm when the water level of criticism rises and he doesn’t seem to flinch when the daggers from the naysayers start flying in his face.
Like a boxer who has taken his share of punches in a championship fight, Spoelstra and the Heat have been knocked down a few times in these playoffs but the team has managed to pick itself up off the mat.
“He does a good job of keeping us motivated. Every game he comes in with something,” James said. “He gets us prepared by the Xs and O’s but also by other things to prepare us for the game.”
Spoelstra is focused at the task at hand and he has matured from last season’s NBA Finals growing pains. In fact he doesn’t even to talk about last year. He is well aware of what lies ahead and all the perils of being the most scrutinized coach in the sport.
Having sat next to Riley when the Heat won the title in 2006, Spoelstra knows what it takes to win a championship.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.