By Christina De Nicola
Pint-sized Dwyane Wades, LeBron Jameses and Chris Boshs ran to halfcourt and sat down with their friends at the Washington Park Gymnasium in Hollywood Wednesday afternoon.
Parents and kids wore their Miami HEAT gear and waited in anticipation for their guest.
HEAT Head Coach Erik Spoelstra and a few members of his coaching staff held a wellness clinic for 100 kids from the Philippine Basketball Association of South Florida for an hour as part of the NBA FIT Live Healthy Week that takes place from January 4-12.
The entire league has been promoting the importance of living an active, healthy lifestyle through grassroots programs and events, special on-court apparel, in-arena health screenings, and online programming.
During Monday nights 101-89 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the HEAT wore special white and blue NBA FIT warm-ups.
Im able to combine a lot of passions in my life, obviously the game of basketball, exercise, kids and my heritage, which is very important to me, Spoelstra said.
During the summer, Spoelstra, who is half-Filipino, actually stopped by a Sunday game and expressed interest in coming back to do a clinic with the children from the association.
The league, which has 16 teams with 12 kids, has been around for 10 years.
The only Filipino basketball league in South Florida, its right here in the city of Hollywood at Washington Park, said Eric Brown, recreation supervisor for the City of Hollywood Parks Department.
One of the people who helped coordinate the event, Dr. Jerry Ciocon, expressed how important Spoelstras appearance meant to the community.
Its very important. Its good for the morale, for the people, he said. It keeps people together and guys like us from the Philippines. It gives you energy and makes you enthusiastic to be here.
Six of the Miami HEAT dancers opened things up with two numbers. After their performance, Burnie surprised the children while Spoelstra spoke to the crowd.
Fitting enough, Spoelstra started the exercise portion of the clinic with a defensive drill, something the coach takes pride in.
Of their 37 games, the HEAT have allowed their opponents to reach 100 points only eight times.
Of course it wouldnt be right if we didnt start a Miami HEAT clinic with defense, and I think the kids enjoyed it, said Spoelstra, who asked the kids to call him Coach Spo.
During the drill, Spoelstra gave the kids three important tips for defense: listening, chopping their feet and sliding.
The kids lined up in four rows. In between blowing his whistle, the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month could be heard encouraging them and teaching the proper defensive stance.
He also told the kids that if they could catch him during the drill, they would get a prize, though he warned that it would be hard because he was fast.
When youre doing homework tonight, you wont need a chair, Spoelstra said. You have an imaginary one!
Steven Panavelil, a fifth grader, enjoyed the drill.
It was awesome. It was really fun, Panavelil said. I couldnt catch him, though. Hes too fast.
Afterwards, speakers blasted music as the kids took part in drills at four separate stations: sprinting, dribbling, shooting and jumping. The dancers and Burnie assisted the coaches at the stations.
But before the kids broke out into the stations, Spoelstra gathered them in a huddle for a Go HEAT chant that could be heard from the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Really the message is to promote a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and exercise and theres no better way to do it than through the game of basketball, Spoelstra said. Its fun to come out here and work with kids and promote exercise and nutrition, but also deal with a game thats been so good to me. Basketball is a beautiful game and its afforded all of us in this profession so many things. To give back any time we can is gratifying.
For fifth grader Patricia Decastro, the jumping drill was her favorite. While she waited in line for her turn, Burnie showed off for everyone by touching the very top.
She has played the center position in basketball for three years now. Her favorite player is Chris Bosh.
It was so cool because I always want to learn more basketball, Decastro said. Im a big HEAT fan.
Brown believes that a high-profile person from the community, such as an athlete or coach, will leave a lasting impact on the children more so than anyone else.
Its very important for me to see an icon come down and deal with our children on staying fit, Brown said. I think the NBA is doing a great job. The children all look up to somebody. For them to actually come in and say to stay fit, I think itll go over better than me saying it every day.
And it wasnt just the kids having a good time.
Paul Agtarap, whose son took part in the clinic, brought his camera to take photos.
Agtarap, along with many other parents, tried their best to catch t-shirts thrown their way as they waited for their children to receive Spoelstras autograph at the end of the clinic.
In this gym, my son usually plays in the summertime, Agtarap said. Every day he asks me to take him to school early in the morning so he can play before studying.
At the end of the hour, kids and parents lingered both inside and outside the gymnasium, not wanting to leave.
This is something Ill be telling everyone at school tomorrow, Decastro said.