Talk about having big shoes to fill. On April 28, 2008, Pat Riley – winner of five NBA championships as a head coach and the only coach in league history to win the Coach of the Year Award with three different teams – announced he was resigning as head coach of the Miami Heat. His replacement would be Erik Spoelstra, who had spent nearly 15 years working his way up through the organization. Five years later, Spoelstra had led the Heat to three Finals appearances and two world championships. Not bad for a man in his early 40s.
Born on Nov. 1, 1970, in Evanston, Ill., Erik Spoelstra is the son of long-time NBA executive Jon Spoelstra, who has worked for the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets. The younger Spoelstra was named the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year while playing for the University of Portland Pilots and was the team’s starting point guard for 4 years. Following his 1992 graduation, Spoelstra spent 2 years as a player/coach for the Tus Herten team in Germany’s professional sports league.
In 1995, Spoelstra was hired as the Heat’s video coordinator. He was responsible for preparing scouting tapes and heading up the team’s information technology for the coaching staff. In 1997, he became an assistant coach/video coordinator, a position he held until 1999, when he was promoted to assistant coach/advance scout. After 2 years in that position, he was named assistant coach/director of scouting in 2001, a job he held until being chosen to replace Riley, who had announced he would remain as team president, in 2008. Spoelstra’s hiring made him the NBA’s youngest head coach as well as the first Asian/Filipino-American head coach in any of the major North American sports leagues.
Devastated by injuries, the Heat had won only 15 games the season before Spoelstra took over. His impact was immediately felt. The 2008-09 Heat set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in a season and won 43 games, both the biggest improvement by a rookie head coach in NBA history and the seventh-best single-season improvement in league history by any coach. An appearance in the 2009 playoffs made the Heat only the second team in league history to qualify for the playoffs 1 year after winning 15 or fewer games. The 2009-10 Heat closed the season by winning 18 of their final 22 games to finish with a 47-35 record. In addition to allowing the fewest field goals in the NBA, the Heat finished second in both points allowed and defensive field goal percentage.
Normally, resigning Dwayne Wade would be the big offseason news story. Not in the summer of 2010, when the Heat also signed All-Stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The subject of intense public scrutiny thanks to the new additions, the Heat posted a 58-24 regular season record in 2010-11 and won the Southeast Division title. Spoelstra was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for leading the Heat to a 15-1 record, including 10-0 on the road, in December 2010. The Heat won the Eastern Conference championship but came up short in the Finals.
A compressed season couldn’t restrict the Heat’s dominance in 2011-12. On the way to winning 40 out of 66 games, Miami won nine consecutive games, all by double digits, from Feb. 10-Mar. 1. The streak saw the Heat become the first team to win road games on three consecutive nights since December 1979 and the first to win each of those games by double-digits since the 1970-71 season. Defense was again an important factor in the team’s success, as the Heat finished third in steals per game, fourth in scoring defense, fourth in scoring margin and fifth in field goal percentage defense, marking the third consecutive season that Miami finished in the top five in that category. The Heat won the 2012 and 2013 championships, making Spoelstra one of only eight NBA coaches to win a championship in consecutive seasons.