Miami Heat

Here’s why Spoelstra and Fizdale never expected to be on opposite sides of Heat-Knicks

David Fizdale speaks about facing Heat

David Fizdale is now on the other side of the Heat-Knicks rivalry as the Knicks’ head coach.
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David Fizdale is now on the other side of the Heat-Knicks rivalry as the Knicks’ head coach.

Erik Spoelstra and David Fizdale never thought they would be on opposite sides of the Heat-Knicks rivalry.

While working in the Heat’s video room together, Spoelstra and Fizdale watched then-Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy grab on to Heat center Alonzo Mourning’s legs in an attempt to break up a fight. The Heat lost that 1998 first-round playoff series in five games.

They also watched Knicks guard Allan Houston hit a last-second game-winning runner to eliminate the Heat in Game 5 of a 1999 first-round playoff series.

“We talked about it at the coaches’ meetings, because we were both in the video room at the time, Heat-Knicks when it was really Heat-Knicks and those are the fun years,” Spoelstra said Tuesday. “And neither one of us ever would have thought we’d be in a situation like this, coaching against each other for these two franchises.”

But here they are.

Spoelstra, in his 11th season as the Heat’s head coach, and Fizdale, in his first season as the Knicks’ head coach, will face off for the first time as part of the rivalry when Miami (1-2) hosts New York (1-3) on Wednesday night.

“It’s funny how things go full circle,” said Fizdale, who spent eight seasons (2008-16) next to Spoelstra on the Heat’s bench and the final two years of his Miami tenure as the assistant head coach to Spoelstra. “I was in the video room when Allan Houston ripped our hearts out, and now Allan Houston’s office is a across the hall from me. And the fact that Pat [Riley] took that lap through New York and came to Miami, you know, all those ties together. It is pretty ironic when you think about it.”

It’s also ironic because preparing for those playoff games against the Knicks is really what helped build Spoelstra and Fizdale’s close friendship. Spoelstra was the Heat’s video coordinator and Fizdale was a video intern.

“I remember staying up. We prepped for the series,” Fizdale said. “Spo and I stayed up 36 or 48 hours. You lose track after 12 Diet Cokes or whatever the heck we had. But we stayed up two days straight basically prepping because in those days it was deck to deck. We didn’t have technology. It was two VCRs and you were making these edits, player edits and scout edits.

“We put a lot into that. Then that whole year, it was a fistfight every game. Some kind of melee broke out. It was never a time we played [the Knicks] that somebody didn’t get kicked out. So by the time the playoffs rolled around, it was like, ‘Oh, we hate these guys.’ Then Allan Houston just ripped our hearts out.”

Those are memories Fizdale will never forget, and he can still recall with detail 20 years later.

“I was just grinding,” he said. “I was a grunt. I was a runner. We would meet Stan Van Gundy at the plane at 4 in the morning, drop off some tapes. He would go back to the office, we would go back to the video room. We lived in that place, Spo and I. That’s a big part of our bond. We were together 24 hours a day for a whole year and it really solidified a great relationship.”

Wednesday won’t be the first time Spoelstra and Fizdale are on opposite sides, though. The two also coached against each other when Fizdale was the Memphis Grizzlies’ head coach, splitting the two-game season series in 2016-17.

But after leading the Grizzlies to the 2017 playoffs in his first season as head coach, Fizdale was fired following a 7-12 start to 2017-18.

“Thankfully it’s a little bit different now, because it’s the third year of this,” Spoelstra said when asked if the emotion of facing his close friend has lessened over time. “The first time was really awkward for me, I don’t know for him. But such is the life in the NBA. We spent plenty of time since then. It’s normal. He’s on his second team, so it feels different already.”

Different enough that Spoelstra can now joke about going against Fizdale.

“Go shove it, Fiz,” Spoelstra said with a smile. “Get out of here, man.”

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