Jon Spoelstra never pictured his son as a professional basketball coach. He was acquainted with coaches in his job as an NBA marketing executive, and always regarded them as competition junkies, high when winning, strung out when losing, jittery between games.
“Obsessed and possessed,” he said.
It was impossible to imagine his boy Erik ever being like Chuck Daly, who once ranted to Spoelstra with total conviction that his 6-13 New Jersey Nets would not win another game for the remainder of the season, or Jack Ramsay, who walked the streets past midnight after a defeat.
Maybe Spoelstra missed the signs, like the summer 14-year-old Erik took 30,000 jump shots, logging his 500 makes per day in a notebook. Or the way Erik studied Isiah Thomas’ crossover dribble on a videotape, rewinding and replaying it frame by frame, then practicing in the driveway or, when it rained, which it does often in Portland, Ore., in the garage. Or 24-year-old Erik’s decision to leave Germany, where he was playing ball and enjoying Europe’s finest Biergartens, to become a film editing mole for the Miami Heat in a converted storage room called “the dungeon.”
The father was too close to the child, attached by devotion and DNA, to project his future. But whatever you do, he counseled Erik, pursue your passion, and don’t be content to collect a paycheck.
Erik Spoelstra followed his dad’s advice all the way to the pinnacle of his passion, the NBA Finals, where he is coaching the Miami Heat as the team chases a second consecutive championship. The best-of-7 series against San Antonio is tied 2-2 with Game 5 set to tipoff at 8 p.m. Sunday.
When the series returns to Miami for Game 6 on Tuesday, Jon Spoelstra plans to be at AmericanAirlines Arena watching his son — no longer a boy but still boyish at 42, and already winner of more postseason games than any coach in Heat history. Jon will fly in from Portland, where he and Erik’s mother still reside in the house where Erik and sister, Monica, grew up.
When Erik first told his father he was going to be head coach of the Heat, Jon said, “‘Where did I go wrong? Isn’t there anything else you could do?’ ” Erik said, laughing. “He’s been around lots of coaches, and to him, they are crazy.”
Jon, 70, feels pride watching his son perform in the crucible of the NBA Finals. And when the TV lights shut off and the season ends, he looks forward to the day Erik comes home, where he decompresses with family and the same friends he used to play with in the driveway.
That’s where it all started for Erik, in fifth grade, when his father coached his Portland youth league team. Erik was a fan of Star Wars and pizza, “just a normal neighborhood kid,” Jon said. When he took up basketball, he found his true love.
“This was the B team, the leftovers, and Erik was undersized,” Jon said. “The one thing I taught him was the half-court trap. We took 100 shots per game. I wanted every boy to get his share of shots, so we ran the ball, and ran and ran.”
Jon worked for the Portland Trail Blazers, who were in the midst of an 11-year sellout streak. One season, Jon took Erik to every home game.
“It was a way for me to bond with Erik the same way my dad bonded with me by taking me to Detroit Tigers games and University of Michigan football games,” Jon said of his father, Watson Spoelstra, a Detroit News sports writer for 40 years. Jon and his sister used to race up and down the field at the Big House while waiting for their father to finish writing. He recalled how his father was once doused in the clubhouse by Denny McLain. And how he never revealed his sources on a scoop about a manager’s firing, “not even years later, on his death bed in Florida. He was very competitive about his job.”