Before he became one of the most successful coaches in professional sports, Erik Spoelstra was once unofficially in charge of team pranks for the Heat.
Amid allegations of bullying inside the Dolphins locker room, the Heat organization says it has no tolerance for harassment, although the team does use pranks and good-natured ribbing to build team chemistry and foster solidarity among players.
When Pat Riley was coach of the Heat, he put Spoelstra in charge of producing the Heat’s annual in-house Christmas video, which highlighted funny moments throughout the season. More often than not, the jokes and gags in the videos put together by Spoelstra came at the expense of individual players. The video is still a celebrated piece of the Heat’s culture.
“If you talk about our Christmas video, that’s probably the ultimate prank system that our guys get involved with,” Spoelstra said. “I did that for Pat, and guys understood not to cross the line.
“I was probably the last judge and jury to know whether I would put that in the video or not, but guys have a lot of fun with it. Guys are already planning scripts for it this year. It has really taken on a life of its own.”
LeBron James is a noted team prankster, but the Heat’s locker room is filled with players always looking to have some fun.
“No one is safe around here,” Dwyane Wade said. “Watch your backs.”
But discretion is key, said Wade, who called hazing a part of sports, but also said “there are different levels.”
“Every team and situation is different,” Wade said. “Because you take that exact example and you put it with another group with other personalities and it could spin out of control. You just don’t know.”
Reports this week that pranks and rookie hazing in the Dolphins organization possibly crossed the line into bullying and harassment reminded Heat forward Shane Battier of his younger years in the NBA.
While in Memphis, Battier recalled a story of Croatian rookie Gordon Giricek being aggressively hazed in the Grizzlies’ locker room during the 2002-03 season. Giricek had played professionally in Europe before coming to the NBA.
“[Giricek] didn’t want to be a rookie and so our veterans promptly placed him in a laundry bin and threw him in a shower and threw ice on him, which is a little excessive,” Battier said.
While Spoelstra cautioned against making sweeping generalizations about pranks and hazing, he said setting the right example starts at the top of every organization.
“Every team is different and every locker room is different. All the interpersonal interactions are different,” Spoelstra said. “We have a very defined culture here at the Miami Heat, starting at the top with Micky Arison and Pat Riley and all of us that have worked together for going on 19 years, we’re the caretakers for that culture.
“We try to get the right type of guys, but once we get people in here there is a discipline and structure of how we do things, but we also open our arms to a lot of different personalities. So, it’s really tough to comment on other people’s situations.”