The Miami Heat was on a bus ride to practice Thursday afternoon when an urgent message from the league office came in.
The news: Goran Dragic had been selected to play in his first All-Star Game by commissioner Adam Silver as an injury replacement for Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who broke his left hand Tuesday night against the Pistons and will miss the next six to eight weeks.
Armed with that news before it hit social media or the news wires, coach Erik Spoelstra decided to surprise his 31-year-old point guard and make the announcement at practice moments later in front of Dragic and his teammates so they could all share in the joy.
“It’s one of the very few times in life where you can surpise somebody. Now with social media things get out there so quickly,” Spoelstra said. “You could see the shock on his face. It's cool to see a group enjoy someone else's success. They're a part of it and Goran even thanked everybody for that. This group is great like that. They can get out of themselves and find joy when somebody else is playing well and accomplishing something.”
Said Dragic of the moment: “It was really nice. All the credit goes to them too because without them this would not be possible. They put me in the right spots so I can give my best, and I’m really grateful and thankful for that.”
According to an NBA press release, Dragic received the most voting points from head coaches among Eastern Conference players who were not selected as reserves or already named as an injury replacement.
Earlier this week, Dragic was passed over by Pistons center Andre Drummond as an injury replacement for Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, which prompted many, including Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and even former Heat guard Dwyane Wade, to wonder what it would take to get Dragic into the All-Star Game.
Drummond, though, had received more votes from Eastern Conference coaches according to the NBA than Dragic.
Had Dragic not been picked, the Heat (29-22) was on its way to becoming the only team among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference without an All-Star.
Now, Miami, which plays the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, no longer has to worry about becoming the first team since the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers to be seeded fourth or higher in a conference and not send a representative to the All-Star Game.
“Hopefuly this shows that [earning an All-Star selection is] a byproduct for winning and being recognized for winning,” Spoelstra said. “Goran we feel is an All-Star. We’re just thrilled that he got recognized by the other coaches and he’s going. And you know, hopefully one of these days we’ll get Hassan in there too.
“Hassan is very close as well. I would say if he didn’t miss those  games from [his bone bruise] injury, I think the way he started the season I think he would have been worthy of an All-Star bid. He just has to stay patient. Everybody’s journey is different. But I’ll tell you what, he’s getting closer and we’ll get him there one of these days.”
Said Whiteside: “It’s great, man. It’s great for the organization. They really pulled for [Dragic]. Micky really pulled for him, coach Spo really pulled for him and he made it. So congrats.”
Dragic, who becomes the Heat’s eighth All-Star all-time, is averaging 17 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game this season and is coming off an MVP performance for his native Slovenia in the offseason leading his home country to the EuroBasket championship. With his selection on Thursday, Dragic became the first Slovenian-born player to earn a trip to an All-Star game.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dragic said. “Coming from a country with two million people, and we have like eight or nine players in the league, and I’m the first Slovenian guy to be named to the All-Star team, that’s something huge for me – personally and for my country too.”
Dragic, who will play for Team LeBron during the All-Star Game on Feb. 18, had been looking forward to spending time with his family and getting some rest after a busy summer with the Slovenian team. But he says going to the All-Star Game is still pretty cool.
“If I’m honest I was prepared to do both – be in it or not be in it,” Dragic said. “Like I said, the most important thing for me [Wednesday] was to be focused on the game [against Cleveland]. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but today when I found out I was happy. This is a [once-in-a-lifetime] experience I’m really proud of and I’ll try to do my best.”
▪ It’s expected that Wayne Ellington will also be in Los Angeles for All-Star weekend to compete in the three-point shooting contest. TNT is expected to make the formal announcement Thursday night.
“I’m going to send Goran a gift, flowers,” Spoelstra said. “I’m thrilled that he's going out there to L.A. Invite his family, he’ll have a great weekend. I’m going to watch that three-point contest, I’ll tell you that much. I cannot guarantee Goran I’ll watch that game.”