MANILA – Erik Spoelstra, the Filipino-American head coach of Miami Heat, has never been to the Philippines since he was 3.
“This is such a special homecoming for me,” he said on his “On the Road” blog at the US Department of State website. “I felt very moved to have my family and friends on hand.”
Spoelstra is in the Philippines for the US Department of State’s Sports Envoy Program.
He is joined by Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale and former US Women National Basketball Association (WNBA) all-star Sue Wicks, assistant coach of the St. Francis College Terriers.
He has been holding basketball clinics in the country alongside Wicks and Fizdale. Their first stop was Zamboanga where they taught some 200 children on Tuesday.
“It was very cool to be a part of the first NBA contingent to visit,” he said, noting that the National Basketball Association has never been to Zamboanga.
The three-hour clinic had drills for the boys and girls who participated. Spoelstra and company were assisted by local basketball coaches and players who serve in the US military.
“I was amazed at how enthusiastic the youth participating in the clinic were,” he said. “They all had smiles on their faces and greeted us warmly.”
He added, “The kids of Zamboanga in general are very warm and hospitable.”
Aside from holding drills, Spoelstra also played a one-on-one game with Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat.
After the clinic, the NBA personalities answered the chidlren’s questions. “We were stunned at how knowledgeable they are about the NBA. They wanted to know about when Dwyane Wade becomes a free agent.”
He remarked, “If I didn't know better, I would have thought I was answering questions at a post game press conference.”
The coaches in turn asked NBA trivia questions. “They even knew that Bill Russell has won more titles than any player in league history and they knew the number of rings he has – 11,” he shared. “So they know the history of the NBA, not just the players of today.”
Spoelstra wrote on his blog, “Our trip to Zamboanga was a memorable experience that I won't forget.”
He went on to write about his Filipino roots. “The Philippines is the homeland of my mother… I have wanted to make this trip for a number of years. I am excited to finally be back.” His mother hails from Laguna province.
The Miami head coach mentioned that from Zamboanga, he went to Manila to continue holding basketball clinics in the capital.
Spoelstra, Wicks, Fizdale, and another Miami Heat assistant coach Chad Kammerer did an instructional clinic for some 75 college and professional basketball coaches Wednesday afternoon.
Following the basketball clinic held at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City, the NBA/WNBA coaches proceeded to a reception hosted at the residence of US Ambassador Kristie Kenney.
“This was a night I will never forget as over 200 people welcomed us to the Philippines with open arms,” Spoelstra shared.
“What made the evening most special to me was having members of my family and close friends from Manila in attendance.”
Spoelstra, 38, is the youngest head coach in the NBA and the first Asian-American to hold such position.
“I have always been very proud of my Filipino heritage but maybe never more so than I have been this week as I have returned to the homeland of my mother and many of my family members,” he said.
His father, Jon Spoelstra, is a long-time NBA executive who has guided the Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets, and Denver Nuggets. His grandfather, Watson, was a Detroit Tigers beat writer, stated a US Embassy news release.
His wife, meantime, is a Filipino, according to Joaquin Henson of The Philippine Star.
NBA over PBA
Spoelstra was a starting point guard for four years for the University of Portland Pilots where he graduated in 1992 with a degree in communications. He was named West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year.
After college, he spent two years as a playing coach for Tus Herten, a team in the German professional sports league.
“I thought that after playing in Europe, I might be able to do the PBA [Philippine Basketball Association],” he told Henson.
“But when the offer from Miami came, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in the NBA,” he added.
Henson reported that Spoelstra also recommends Fil-Ams and imports to some PBA coaches.
The Fil-Am head coach started as a video coordinator for the Heat in 1995. He prepared scouting tapes and developed the Heat’s information technology for the coaching staff for two seasons.
He became assistant coach/video coordinator for the two seasons (1997-1999) and then assistant coach/advance scout for the next two seasons (1999-2001). He then assumed the post of assistant coach/director of scouting.
He was named head coach on April 28, 2008 after Heat President and head coach Pat Riley stepped down. With a report from Joaquin Henson, The Philippine Star and the Sports Envoy Blog at www.exchanges.state.gov
Photo courtesy of NBA.com/Heat