MANILA, Philippines – Erik Spoelstra, the Filipino-American head coach of NBA champions Miami Heat, chalked up another career milestone when he coached in the All-Star Game for the first time last Sunday in Houston.
Spoelstra’s Heat compiled a 36-14 record before the All-Star break, four games ahead of the New York Knicks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
In line with this, Spoelstra was named coach of the East All-Stars for the first time in his career.
For “Coach Spo,” the opportunity given to him this past weekend was a big honor for his team and his country, and hopes his continued success will open doors for others like him.
“There’s no doubt about it, I’m proud to be Filipino, and I’m proud to represent the Asian community,” Spoelstra said.
“Hopefully, what it does is it changes people’s perspectives that anybody, given the right opportunity, it doesn’t matter what race, creed, color or ethnicity (you are),” he continued.
“It’s more about your competency, and hopefully, people start to view that differently. I know it has changed in the last 15 to 20 years.”
The West All-Stars outlasted the East, 143-138, but Spoelstra’s counterpart, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, was full of praise for the young champion coach.
“As a coach, he’s one of the young stars,” said Popovich, who has won four NBA titles with San Antonio.
“He really understands the game, his work ethic is second to none, and he’s got an incisive feel for what’s going on on the court,” added “Coach Pop.”
Popovich also noted that Spoelstra “has a way of handling superstars,” as he works with not one, not two, but three All-Stars in Miami: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“It’s a big market in Miami and there are big expectations for people like Dwyane and LeBron, but he’s handled it with class and obviously he has succeeded,” Popovich said.
NBA veteran and former All-Star Jerry Stackhouse also admires how Spoelstra has steered the Heat in the past couple of seasons.
“He commands respect, and even if he has those big stars on the team, I really admire how he did that and how he puts everybody in their place, no matter who you are,” Stackhouse said.
The Heat are still the top team in the Eastern Conference and with James putting together another MVP-caliber season, Spoelstra’s squad is in good shape to defend their title.
But with two months to go until the playoffs, nothing is certain. Spoelstra believes that as hard as it was to win the championship last year, it will be even more difficult to pull off a “back-to-back.”