Erik Spoelstra Q+A (cont'd)
SI.com: Pat Riley's presence seems to be not only an asset but also a potential problem with the pressure that comes with working under him. How have you handled the task of trying to win with frequent media calls for your boss to take your job?
Spoelstra: First, I'm grateful for the opportunity Micky Arison and Coach Riley have given me, and I would not be here without Pat's guidance over the years. Still, it's never easy in sports replacing a Hall of Famer, but then coaching a team with the type of players that we had was a new experience. As much as I tried to prepare before the 2010-11 season, those first three weeks when we were 9-8, sure ... I was uncomfortable. I had never experienced anything like that before as an assistant coach or in the two years I had been a head coach. After that I was able to realize, OK, this is the world I'll live in. All coaches live in it to some extent, and from there I was able to find a way to compartmentalize and focus on the things I could control, and that was to coach. Everything else was just noise.
SI.com: Much has been made over whose team the Heat is: Dwyane's or LeBron's? Does it matter?
Spoelstra: Yeah, and I think one of the last hurdles that we finally overcame was that it became our team, and everybody had a voice. Regardless of the role, not one person could have won that Finals trophy without everybody else. There was a not an epiphany; it happened through experiences and often times through failure and pain.
SI.com: Did you have to prove yourself to LeBron and Chris?
Spoelstra: I've always felt that I've had to prove my integrity, my competence every single day, and earn the trust of my players every single day, and that's regardless of my background. And winning a title as an assistant coach or a head coach doesn't change that. You have to earn your players' trust all the time. And I'm grateful Dwyane and U.D. [longtime Heat power forward Udonis Haslem] helped me open up the doors to new players and bridge a connection with players I didn't know yet. But those two could vouch for me in terms of my integrity and work ethic and character. I don't know what it would have been like to coach my first game if I didn't have good existing relationships with Dwyane and U.D. already.
SI.com: How did the additions of 2010 change your relationship with Dwyane?
Spoelstra: Dwyane and I have been through everything. In every single position I've had in our organization, from a scout to an assistant coach to head coach, I have developed a relationship with Dwyane. We've been through the good and bad and everything in between. You really get to know each other in this league once you go through tough times, not just the championships; that's where you develop a level of trust that goes above and beyond.
SI.com: Does winning a ring afford you a level of freedom in which you can try different strategies than in the past?
Spoelstra: I don't plan on being cavalier about our team. This is still a fragile opportunity. So many things have to go your way and you have to rise to the occasion in the moments of truth time and time again. One of our greatest teachers and motivators before was losing in the Finals. Sometimes, inversely, success can be a deceptive and inefficient teacher if you don't review it with the proper perspective.
SI.com: And that perspective is?
Spoelstra: One, to remember how difficult it actually was. Two, to understand there's no way to take the same path, so it will be a new journey for us. And third, to commit to a growth mindset. We can't fast-track to June, to times that are certainly not guaranteed. Rather, we need to focus on the present moment and to try to improve every day. That can be a cliché but it is also true. Everybody wants to fast-forward to the Eastern Conference finals or to the NBA Finals, to possible opponents, to the things that can't possibly be planned for. But there's a reason we play 82 regular-season games and have a training camp and a preseason, and that's to improve as a team and to go through the trials and tribulations together and hopefully grow to the point where you have a legitimate chance to win it all.
SI.com: You have a roster with the reigning MVP, two perennial All-Stars and the greatest three-point shooter in the game who also happens to be a perennial All-Star. Are there areas to improve?
Spoelstra: Yes. And one of the areas is to play with more pace. That is a synapse that we have to continue to build. We were one of the slower-paced teams in 2010 and last year we were in the top half. I would like to play a little faster this year. It won't be out of control but hopefully we can create more possessions.
SI.com: How much of your job now is psychologist vs. game strategist?
Spoelstra: As an assistant coach, it was probably 70 percent strategy, preparation, schematics, and 30 percent player development/interaction. And as a head coach it became 50 percent pressure and 50 percent managing personalities. You can see that I left out the Xs and Os. That isn't to diminish the importance of those -- it's a major part of what we do. But managing personalities and managing all the outside circumstances are probably the biggest part of this job.
SI.com: Now that you have won a ring, what will keep you up nights this season?
Spoelstra: I feel as uncomfortable as I did last year or the year before. It doesn't stop. You win the title and you celebrate for the weekend and then you're already starting to think about the challenges of the next season. That's the life and the curse for a head coach in any sport. Now we've been around long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed and not to trust success. It will be the toughest thing any of us will have to do, to win another title.
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