Thursday, August 2, 2012

Miami Heat Champion coach Erik Spoelstra visits Philippines and watched PBA Finals

There was, Erik Spoelstra swears, very little that changed about him since steering the Miami Heat to the NBA title last season.

“I don’t want [the NBA championship] to change my lifestyle,” he said during a press conference hosted by NBA Asia. “I get recognized more and I need to wear a baseball cap when I eat out in Miami. But it hasn’t reached a point where I wear a fake mustache or clown glasses.”

He is busier too, diving into preparations for next season’s title defense especially with new acquisitions bolstering the Heat’s roster. But it hasn’t reached a point where he would skip a trip to Manila.

“I told my assistant to move some dates around and push appointments back to make time for at least a week in the Philippines,” he said.

So Spoelstra is here, bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy with him. He is less guarded than he was during his last visit to the country, when the loss to the Dallas Mavericks and several lockout prohibitions held back what should have been easy, casual conversations.

He looks more relaxed, the circles under his eyes several shades lighter. He dropped by Smart Araneta Coliseum for Game 5 of the PBA Finals, reminding him of one of his life’s regrets and joking how he nearly crossed that item off.

“I still regret not having been able to play in the PBA,” he said. “If I could have taped my ankles and wore knee braces and jumped into [Wednesday’s] game, I would have. That looked like a lot of fun.”

Instead, he sat back and enjoyed the “passion” by which B-Meg and Rain or Shine played, with every tough play reminding him of what former PBA commentator and NBA scout Jim Kelly told him when he tried to recruit a young Spoelstra to play for Asia’s first pro league.

“I remember I was warned about the physicality,” said Spoelstra. “Jim said this wasn’t anything like your average US college game.”

“[Wednesday] night, the officials let the guys play and I like the competition between the two teams.”

While he said he didn’t want to comment on players individually, Spoelstra said B-Meg star and two-time league MVP James Yap certainly caught his attention in Game 5.

“He had a terrific game last night,” he said.

“It’s an honor that he noticed me,” said Yap. “Imagine, he’s an NBA champ and he coaches LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.”

Spoelstra’s visit will be filled with the usual activities he performs during visits. Outreach clinics, visits to Malacañang and all. Yesterday afternoon, he paid President Aquino a visit and presented him with a Miami Heat jersey.

One thing that’s unlikely to materialize though is a specific commitment to be a consultant for the national team.

“I have a very busy schedule,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to commit myself to something that would require a lot of time. I’d like to be more involved in the grassroots.”

“But I am a fan of the national program and if there’s any way I can help as a fan or as a distant observer, I’d definitely love that.

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