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Why you don't know Spo

Dave Hyde
Contact ReporterSun Sentinel Columnist

INDIANAPOLIS — Erik Spoelstra does not want to help this story. There's a reason. He doesn't embrace fame. He finds no value in headlines. He's had enough written about him already, he seems to say.

For the past 30 minutes Monday afternoon, he leaned against a gym wall after the Heat practice and talked in expansive terms about everything Heat. LeBron James' inside game. Chris Bosh's sacrifice. Udonis Haslem's shooting. Everything. At length.

But now the national media has left, and the question turns to him: "How have you changed these past few years with this team?"

He shrugs. "I don't know, you'll have to ask the players,'' he says.


"Maybe I'm a little less stubborn."

"Less stubborn?"

"Yeah, maybe. It's irrelevant to this series, so …"

He shrugs again. That's all you're getting.

"I'm not trying to be a jerk,'' he says.

That's his role on the team, of course. To be a jerk. Even great teams full of great players need to be coached. Spoelstra's job is to push and pull, to demand and threaten, and when the Heat haven't played well, to tell them in direct terms they haven't played well."

"Oh, he's good about that,'' Chris Bosh says.

He just doesn't see value in being a public personality like they are. And you can see why. Rule No. 1 around the Heat since LeBron James and Bosh arrived is that if this team wins, it's because of the players. But if they lose, it's the coaching.

When LeBron posted down low in Game 3's win against Indiana, and changed the game with inside scoring, little time was spent on the tactical change. All praise went to LeBron. That's natural.

Or when LeBron got the ball at the top of the key at Game 1's end against Indiana, with an open lane before him, the drawn-up play wasn't a topic. LeBron was. As it should be.

But let's take a moment now and examine that play. Spoelstra said they'd used "elements of the play before, and it failed every time."

That play is a small symbol of this team's development under Spoelstra.

"Two years ago, we failed on every side out-of-bounds play like that,'' he said. "It forced us to actually start working on it all the time. And we have."

That, in essence, is Spoelstra's essence. Fail. Work. Win. Rinse. Hopefully repeat this year. And that's how he wants to be defined. He won't talk about himself. He doesn't yet have some surface attribute — a snappy dresser, an authored motivator — the way we define some NBA coaches.

Even Indiana's Frank Vogel, another bright, young coach whose name isn't on the marquee, led the NBA coaches in technical fouls this season with nine. So there's that to hang on him. Spoelstra ranked 18th with three.

"I'm not a yeller that way,'' he said.

The one anecdote to hang on Spoelstra is he's a book giver. This year it was, "Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don't." Another year it was, "Outliers." And: "Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential."

Phil Jackson famously gave books to players. Of course, the other night in Game 2, Jackson tweeted out, "Why does the NBA allow the coaches to be in playing territory? Spo is in bounds on that 8 sec violation."

Spoelstra perks up, chuckles. "Did he really call me Spo?"

He'll never be as famous as his players. Nor does that seem to matter to him. Winning is the reward. His prime attribute is getting the stars as his allies, and in that regard he has indeed become less stubborn.

"Where it shows up is in timeout huddles,'' Udonis Haslem says. "Now we have so much dialogue in them. It's not just coaches calling players. Players are talking, making suggestions. If we don't like it, he'll change the play.

"At one point, he just wasn't comfortable doing that."

He's comfortable coaching. He's good at coaching. It's the sidelights of fame, and its bedfellow of celebrity, that he doesn't embrace. Maybe someday he will. Just not yet.

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