Erik Spoelstra may be 42, but he doesn’t look much different than he did 20 years ago.
Spoelstra, who just completed his fifth season as coach of the Heat, still wears the same kind of things he did back in the 1990s from retro Air Jordans to a gold-toned Casio diving watch complete with a thick black rubber strap.
During Heat practices, Spoelstra isn’t shy about getting out on the court and demonstrating what he’s trying to teach — much like he did as an assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy and Pat Riley during his 30s.
It may be his boyish looks or his good fortune of being the Heat coach when LeBron James and Chris Bosh were lured to Miami to join Dwyane Wade, but Spoelstra doesn’t get the respect other coaches who have won a pair of NBA titles would get.
Perhaps that is changing.
“We used to call him the best young coach in the NBA,” Heat TV voice Eric Reid said at Monday’s rally at AmericanAirlines Arena. “But now, after two straight championships, why don’t we just call him the best coach in the NBA?”
Spoelstra has said he doesn’t care what others outside the Heat organization think of him. Spoelstra has the complete support of Riley and the rest of the Miami front office and, truthfully, that’s all that matters.
If more respect is headed his way, Miami being able to outlast Indiana and San Antonio by winning Game 7s could be a big reason why.
“That’s what competition is about,” Spoelstra said after Miami’s win on Thursday. “I mentioned that all series long. If people say it’s only because of us that we lost or we struggled and we should have had an easier run, that’s not giving any credit to the Indiana Pacers or the Spurs. They were great teams. They were incredible challenges to us that we had to overcome.
“It’s never easy. As tough as last year was, it seemed like this year was even tougher. Particularly these last two rounds.”
One of Spoelstra’s biggest champions — aside from Riley — is former Knicks coach and current ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
Van Gundy, former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy’s older brother, said in the closing minutes of Thursday’s Game 7 win against San Antonio that Spoelstra was the best coach the Heat had ever had.
A former assistant under Riley with the Knicks, Jeff Van Gundy said Monday he meant no disrespect to the Heat president. But he says he’s not the only one who believes Spoelstra is deserving of that title as the Heat’s best coach.
“I know Pat Riley, have coached for him and competed against him. He’s already a Hall of Fame coach,” Van Gundy said. “But after what Spo has accomplished, I think coach Riley would agree with me. Look at what he’s done. He’s won 11 series in three years, has been to the Finals three straight years and has won back-to-back titles.
“Erik has gotten the most from his talent at hand.”
Spoelstra is a basketball junkie who started working for the Heat 18 years ago as a video coordinator. He spent countless hours going through tape before moving up through the ranks within basketball operations.
Since joining the team, Spoelstra also has been an advance scout and was the director of scouting in charge of getting the Heat prepared for future opponents.