Spoelstra’s work ethic long known
by Jeffrey Martin, USA TODAY Sports
Portland, Ore. — Erik Spoelstra has the Miami Heat aiming for a third consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, but it was a life-altering decision nearly 20 years ago that set him on this path.
In 1995, Spoelstra had his choice of two job offers, and family seemingly on both sides of the fence.
His father, Jon, a former executive with the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets, remembers both opportunities holding appeal. Erik, his only son and the younger of two children, could continue playing basketball professionally in Germany or he could accept a position with the Miami Heat as a video coordinator.
There was a catch with the NBA gig.
“It wasn’t a guarantee that it would last past the summer,” Spoelstra told USA TODAY Sports. “I was not set on that. It was probably the toughest decision I had made in my life, because I just had an opportunity in Germany for another two-year deal.
“I was living the dream over there.”
Nursing a cup of coffee on an overcast afternoon in Spoelstra’s hometown recently, Jon Spoelstra laughed. To him, it would have been an easy call — “You get to play basketball, you’re being paid and you get to drink all of this beer?” — but it was Erik’s decision.
To his then-24-year-old son, who’d been rejected repeatedly for college assistant coaching gigs, extending his playing career felt more important than landing that elusive first job off the court.
That is, until Erik’s older sister, Monica, spoke up.
“I don’t know if these are the right words,” Jon Spoelstra said, “but she said, ‘What the (expletive) are you thinking? Do you realize how difficult it is to get into the NBA?
“Just because Dad is there doesn’t mean it’s easy. To get a job on the basketball side? You have to be an idiot.’
“He called me back a day later and said, ‘I changed my mind.’”
Erik Spoelstra has been in South Beach ever since, ascending from poring over video to scout to director of scouting to assistant coach and, finally, to head coach in 2008.
In four years, he has led … [For more on Long before Miami, Spoelstra's work ethic known, click here.]