The Foundation of a Coach

Erik Spoelstra Joins Elite Company With 657th Win
Erik Spoelstra
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves
by Joe Beguiristain

Erik Spoelstra is no stranger to the NBA record books.

Though he wouldn’t like to talk about it, the 50-year-old head coach has created quite the resume for himself over the course of 13 seasons.

And now it’s time to add another accolade.

With the HEAT defeating the Pistons on MLK Day, Coach Spo earned his 657th career win (including playoffs) and passed Phil Jackson for the sixth-most wins by a head coach with a single franchise in NBA history.

While Spoelstra leapfrogged Jackson, that was from the Zen Master’s stint with the Bulls. Next up on the list are Red Holzman with the Knicks (667), Jackson with the Lakers (728), Red Auerbach with the Celtics (885), Jerry Sloan with the Jazz (1,223) and Gregg Popovich with the Spurs (1,455 and counting).

In an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson in early May, Spoelstra reflected on his journey and talked about how much he’s loved it.

“My path could have been a whole lot different if I worked for a different organization, and I find great purpose in being a steward and a caretaker of this culture…I absolutely love it,” Spoelstra said. “Pat [Riley] and Micky [Arison] started this thing with a huge vision 25 years ago, and then we’ve been able to get to the mountain top three times based on that vision…and [I’m] responsible for taking it to this next version and the next chapter.”

Spoelstra’s first chapter with the HEAT came as a video coordinator in June of 1995 when the organization needed help with the draft. And once the team acquired Pat Riley three months later, Spoelstra’s job was in jeopardy. However, he retained his position since training camp was right around the corner, and the new staff didn’t have time to train anybody.

“I had kind of a one-year leeway to prove myself. And 25 years later, they haven’t found a way to get rid of me yet, I guess,” Spoelstra said jokingly.

Early on in his career, Spoelstra was able to work with Stan Van Gundy, current head coach for the New Orleans Pelicans, and of course, former head coach for the HEAT. Spo referred to Riley as his “biggest mentor”, but he credited SVG for being the first coach who saw something in him.

“[Stan Van Gundy] wrote me a letter once that I still have. I’ll never forget that he said that, ‘Hey, you can be a head coach in this league. You need to start thinking differently and open up your mind to that.’,” Spoelstra recalled. “And it was one of the most impactful things I’ve ever received in my life. But to that point, I never thought about [being a head coach].”

But then, Spo did start thinking about it and continued to come up through the ranks within the organization. And once the 2007-08 season came to a close, Riley knew it was time for Spoelstra to take over the reins. Two Saturdays after the campaign ended, Riley brought the then-37-year-old into his office — in what Spo described as a Godfather scene with the lights down — and told him the news.

“He said, ‘Hey, I’m done. You knew this day was coming, and you’re ready for it. This is going to be like you’re up in a bird’s nest, and I’m just going to push you off the branch. And you’re going to have to figure out how to fly, but you have enough experience. You’ve worked for great people. You’ve had a lot of experience in the playoffs and everything, but this is happening. So, take a couple days to get your S-H-I-T together, and Monday is the press conference. Alright, thanks, see you then’”, Spoelstra recollected.

It's safe to say that Spo’s had his “stuff" together ever since.


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