Spoelstra rises up every rung of Heat ladder to take over Print
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Tuesday, 29 April 2008 10:56
NBA Headline News

 MIAMI (AP) -Erik Spoelstra's tenure with the Miami Heat nearly ended after just a few months when Pat Riley arrived in 1995.
Spoelstra was settling in as Miami's new video coordinator in 1995 when the Heat hired Riley as coach and president. Riley had final say over everything, including staff, and wanted someone he already knew to manage that part of the team's operation. But those plans ultimately fell apart, keeping Spoelstra's job safe.
``I didn't know his name for about three years,'' Riley said.
Now, Spoelstra's name follows Riley in the Heat history books.
After 13 years, Spoelstra - ``Spo,'' as many in the organization call him - finally has the best seat in the Heat's house. Tabbed Monday as Riley's replacement, the 37-year-old Spoelstra becomes the sixth coach in team history and replaces the Nets' Lawrence Frank as the youngest sideline boss in the NBA.
The guy who traveled to see 120 games a year as a scout, who would stay for hours after practices to help All-Star guard Dwyane Wade hone his jumper and who turned down higher-paying opportunities elsewhere in deference to the Heat notion of loyalty has become, in Riley's eyes, the right guy for any job.
``A lot of people bring a lot of what he has to the table,'' Heat assistant coach Keith Askins said. ``But what you don't understand about Spo is that he's a basketball junkie. He really studies the game, he wants to get better and he wants to win. I don't think there's a better X's and O's guy out there. He's been under coach's wing for some time now and it's time to see how he can fly.''
Other than stints as coach of the Heat summer league team, Spoelstra will be a rookie, in terms of head coach experience.
But really, he's a basketball lifer.
``I wasn't totally blind to what head-coaching responsibilities are. I've seen this, closely, now for 13 years,'' Spoelstra said. ``I've watched it pretty intently the last couple of years. That's just part of it. It's going to be a big challenge. It's going to be a big change. But I'm ready to take that step right now.''
Spoelstra's father is Jon Spoelstra, who was an executive with the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets, and is probably best remembered in some circles for getting traded - he was shipped from the Blazers to the Indiana Pacers front office for one week of consulting in exchange for point guard Don Buse.
Erik Spoelstra was a standout high school guard in Oregon, then played at the University of Portland, where he was the West Coast Conference's freshman of the year. After college, he spent two years playing professionally in Germany, before the Heat called with their offer to work at the lowest rung of the organization.
He jumped at the chance, worked his way up and has a championship ring - not to mention the respect of just about everyone in the organization, including Wade, who was among the three players Riley consulted about promoting Spoelstra before the deal was finished.
But even after 13 years, Spoelstra still doesn't exactly look like a grizzled NBA veteran.
``Give me a few months on the job: I'm sure I'll look quite older than I do right now,'' Spoelstra said. ``That's just the nature of the game. I'm looking forward to that.''
He interviewed with Heat owner Micky Arison last week, a lengthy conversation to talk about the team's past and its future. Arison and Spoelstra didn't know each other well before that chat, but the owner came away convinced that Riley was making the right decision.
With that, the deal was done, and the Riley coaching era ended.
``Erik's a guy who's worked hard for the organization and has deserved the right to get this opportunity,'' Arison said.
Stan Van Gundy, one of Spoelstra's closest friends, knows what it's like to replace Riley.
He did it in 2003, when Riley told him eight days before the season-opener that he was stepping aside and clearing the way for his top lieutenant. Van Gundy stayed in the job for a little over two seasons before stepping down for family reasons.
``I look forward to picking his brain as much as I can,'' Spoelstra said.
Van Gundy now coaches the Orlando Magic - the team that replaced Miami as Southeast Division champions this season.
``From my selfish perspective here, I wish they would have hired somebody not so good,'' Van Gundy said. ``But from a personal perspective, I like Erik very much as a person; he's one of my best friends. I have as much respect for him as I have for anyone in the business. I think he's unbelievable, and I am really, really happy that all his hard work got rewarded.''
Five years ago, Riley thought the time was right to step aside.
Now, he says he is absolutely certain that's the case.
``You get to the point, as a man, where you just don't want to do something anymore,'' Riley said. ``It doesn't mean that I don't want to be part of basketball or part of a competitive situation or build a team. But in the best interest of the team, I don't believe that I could give them my very best.''
He believes Spoelstra not only can, but will.
``He understands what the nature of this thing is,'' Riley said. ``It's really about winning.''
---
Associated Press Writer Travis Reed in Orlando, Fla. contributed to this report.
 

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