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Players credit Spoelstra with building relationship in team

Erik Spoelstra was part of the group the Miami Heat sent to woo Dwyane Wade to stay and lure LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the team.

Erik Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach, said establishing a good working relationship with LeBron James, after an awkward start, is one of the reason's the team has reached the NBA Finals.
Erik Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach, said establishing a good working relationship with LeBron James, after an awkward start, is one of the reason's the team has reached the NBA Finals.

As Miami prepares to face the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals, it is not lost on the Heat that perhaps this season's most challenging moment occurred in Dallas.

It was November 27. The Heat were about to lose for the eighth time in 17 games, and Spoelstra was marching angrily onto the court after calling a time-out. LeBron James walked past him, sending his right shoulder into Spoelstra's right shoulder.

"Bumpgate," it was dubbed.

As it turned out, it was only a bump in the road. Despite widespread speculation otherwise, Spoelstra's job was never in danger. And since that night, the Heat have the league's best record.

"From day one, we've had a high level of confidence that Spo's a good coach," said Micky Arison, the Heat owner. "We knew that this would be an unbelievable challenge … What is amazing to me is how even-keeled he was throughout the season."

Players have largely the same reaction.

"He's done great," the guard Dwyane Wade said. "Coach Spo's done great. He's the same, man, no matter what, and we appreciate that because we know what we're going to get from him."

Never was that more appreciated than when things seemed to be breaking down in November.

Of the infamous Bumpgate, Spoelstra said: "That was a good starting moment for LeBron and I, just from the standpoint that we both realised, 'Hey, this is bizarre, the spotlight and the story lines that are developing with this team.'

"The two of us seemed to be a lightning rod for it. We understood we're in this together and the only way we'd all figure this out is if we got on the same page."

They got there. And now they are four wins from the championship.

Spoelstra started in the Heat video room in 1995, around the same time as Pat Riley, now the team president, was taking over the basketball operations.

Spoelstra, the first Filipino-American to be a head coach in any of North America's four biggest sports leagues, won 43 games his first season, 47 the second, and was a key part of the group that last summer that wooed Wade, James and Chris Bosh. Building a relationship with James took time, but it is clear that the coach and the player have never been closer.

"I knew my communication with the head coach had to become better," James said. "Seventeen games into the season, it wasn't as great as it is now, of course. It's definitely grown. It should grow."

That process started moments after that loss, in a long players-only meeting in Dallas. Two days later, James and Spoelstra sat down in Miami to learn more about each other and exchange some ideas.

Starting then, the Heat ripped off 21 wins in their next 22 games.