The Miami Heat are the most unlikely team in NBA Finals history. They are to the point that his path to the title eliminatory seems even scripted, after having crossed the barrier of the heroic and entering a field where absolutely everything, divine or human, seems possible.
Miami is the second franchise that will play in the final after starting as the eighth seed in its Conference, something that only knew one precedent: that of the New York Knicks in 1999. Only that the case of the Heat is even more difficult, for three reasons.
First, in that course (1999) the first round was still played for the best of five games (currently, the best of seven), which facilitated the option of surprise; second, the campaign was limited to fifty regular phase games (in normal conditions there are eighty-two), due to the previous lockout, which shortened qualifying distances; and third, Miami has eliminated in 2023 the two teams with the best balance of the season.
As if that were not enough, what the Heat experienced is even more amazing considering the circumstances. In the seventh and final game of their series against the Celtics, played in Boston, Erik Spoelstra’s team used a rotation of only eight men, five of whom were not even selected in the draft at the time. In other words, he put into action a block full of under-the-radar profiles that have managed, based on collective sense and mastery in the execution of their roles, to overcome any adverse context.
In the Miami epic, the leadership of Jimmy Butler, one of the greatest competitors of his generation, stands out on the track. A self-made player, decisive on both sides of the track and with a special instinct to get bigger in the critical moments of the duels, when the heart rate rises and fear grips. This season the Heat have achieved, so far, 38 victories in even final games, the so-called clutch, the best mark of the last quarter of a century in the NBA.
However, in Miami, a rock in sports and mentally, the influence of Erik Spoelstra, its head coach, stands out. A man without whom the character and path of his team is not understood. A master and survivor of the benches. Spoelstra’s story actually reveals the American dream of which, starting at the bottom and without great expectations, ends at the top of the skyscraper.
Spoelstra, one of many university players -he completed his cycle in Portland- who have no place in the NBA, emigrated to Germany to try to earn a living with basketball, something he would do at the modest TuS Herten while simultaneously serving as a point guard for the team and assistant coach to Hubert Beck. In his spare time, he coached a team of kids under the age of twelve. Since none of them spoke English, this helped him to improve his learning of German.
He would be so comfortable in Germany that, after two years (1995), he almost missed an interview for a position, albeit a modest one (video coordinator), with the Miami Heat. In the NBA. His father, in his executive day in the American league, would get it for him. Earlier that day, Erik had tickets to a Grateful Dead concert and seemed ready to forego the interview, until his older sister, Monica, reminded him of the prospect of the opportunity. “But what are you thinking? It’s the NBA, ”she came to tell him.
Spoelstra ended up going to the interview and getting the position. One in which, basically, he alternated being the errand boy with the endless work of video editing, which he continued after work, at night, in his small apartment. Spoelstra’s reports became so comprehensive and brilliant that they reached the ears of the Heat’s top honcho, the legendary Pat Riley, who would eventually promote him to the role of scout and give him influence in the department not long after.
Deep down, as Tony Fiorentino, a former Heat assistant, would clinically define, Spoelstra “was not a guy who knew about computers trying to learn about basketball, quite the opposite.” His overwhelming work ethic and his desire to learn would lead him to the bench, as an assistant, until Riley himself entrusted him with the main position of the coaching staff in 2008. The definitive sign of his recognition.
Spoelstra suffered the stinging ink and voice of the press when, formed the megaproject with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the helm (2010), he -a technician without much experience or poster- seemed the weakest piece and to sacrifice. But Riley, his teacher, always defended and advised him. “When you sense wardrobe problems, he talks to the players. Make sure you don’t lose contact, they are your allies, ”he confessed to her on one occasion, at the beginning of the hectic cycle with James in Miami. Those Heat would win two rings, and would play another two Finals, in four years.
However, it would not be until the end of that luxurious stage when public opinion would really begin to value Spoelstra’s talent, management capacity and tactical creativity. With less unbalancing resources but the full confidence of his mentor at heights, the coach became a key figure in the construction and development of Miami’s ‘culture’, something not just material – each start of the course, to new players , they are offered a guide with the codes and values that govern the franchise- but, above all, spiritual. A particular conception of sport, competition and the strength of the group.
The arrival of Jimmy Butler (2019), ideal for that identity that made Riley always feel so proud, shot the ceiling of some Heat that will play these days against Denver, and again under the radar, their second Finals in four years. It will be the sixth as head coach for Spoelstra, equaling the fourth highest figure in history, only after Jackson, Auerbach and Riley himself.
Outstanding in match management, brave with any zonal defensive alternative and a believer when it comes to empowering and making pieces progress, Spoelstra’s board shines, achieving the ultimate goal of every coach: that when the key stage is reached, his team gets closer to his version. ideal.
The Heat are once again underdogs. They will therefore be doubly dangerous.
You can follow EL PAIS Sports on Facebook and Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
Source: EL PAIS