In familiar territory but as adversaries, LeBron and Spoelstra reunite in NBA Finals


Posted at Sep 28 2020 11:21 AM

In familiar territory but as adversaries, LeBron and Spoelstra reunite in NBA Finals 1
Erik Spoelstra (left) and LeBron James celebrate the Miami Heat winning the NBA championship against the Oklahoma City on June 21, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. Ronald Martinez, Getty Images via AFP/file

LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra no doubt have fond memories of one another having worked together to bring 2 championships to the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013. 

Now, they're both back in the NBA Finals, but on opposing teams. 

Spoelstra has stayed on as head coach of the Heat, after the LeBron era ended in 2014 with a lopsided loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the title series and James eventually bolting for the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

While James subsequently took Cleveland to 4 straight trips to the Finals, including the 2016 championship, Spoelstra and the Heat were middling -- they missed the playoffs thrice, and made 2 postseasons but they didn't get far. 

With draft picks that developed faster than they had hoped and the acquisition of Jimmy Butler prior to the 2019-2020 season, Miami assembled an anti-superteam that had players who fit Spoelstra's system, embraced the so-called Heat culture, and ripped through the Eastern Conference for a place on the big stage. 

Prior to Miami's current run, Spoelstra's cachet had always been attached to James and their success together in the early 2010s, where they went to 4 straight NBA Finals. 

Spoelstra had been in charge of developing a team trying to compete in the East with Dwyane Wade as its centerpiece, until Miami pulled off a recruiting coup in the summer of 2010 that had James from Cleveland and Chris Bosh from Toronto coming over to South Beach. 

From flying under the radar, Miami became the center of the NBA universe and Spoelstra, the Heat former video coordinator who rose through the coaching ranks, was thrust into the glaring limelight, no thanks to superstar James and his Big 3.

In an interview earlier this month, Spoelstra suggested he felt like he was thrown into the fire with that star-studded lineup. 

"My first probably two or three years as a head coach, I really battled and struggled with that," said Spoelstra, who began head coaching duties on the Heat in 2008. 

"I didn't feel like I was ready or necessarily that I belonged."

With a strong rebuilding program and Spoelstra fine-tuning his coaching acumen, the Heat are back in the NBA Finals, with no less than James, who has appeared in 9 of the past 10 championship series, waiting.