Fil-Am Coach Proud of Filipino Heritage

On: 13 May 2008

Erik Spoelstra

By Joaquin Henson
The Philippine Star, 10 May 2008

Newly appointed Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said yesterday he is thrilled to become the first Fil-Am named to the high-level position in the NBA and being “very proud of my heritage, this is a great honor.”

Spoelstra’s mother Elisa Caridad Celino is from San Pablo, Laguna. She is a UP Diliman journalism graduate and taught at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City before leaving for the US in 1966. Spoelstra’s father Jon is of Dutch-Irish descent and used to work in the front office of the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets.

A bachelor, Spoelstra has an older sister Monica who is involved in advertising and graphic design.

“I am currently the NBA’s youngest coach but not the youngest ever as Lawrence Frank was 33 when he was named head coach for New Jersey,” said the 37-year-old Spoelstra in an e-mail to The STAR. “As the league’s youngest coach now, though, I am extremely honored to have been promoted to this level with the Heat.”

Spoelstra said he was told of his appointment after several meetings with predecessor Pat Riley and team managing general partner Micky Arison.

“Over my 13 years with Miami, Pat has been an incredible mentor and has given me so much valuable advice,” said Spoelstra who was a playing coach for two years with Tus Herten in the German league before joining the Heat as a video coordinator. “I was both surprised and excited when he told me I would be elevated to head coach.”

Spoelstra said Riley is his biggest influence and mentor.

“Additionally, Stan Van Gundy is a close friend and someone who really made an impression on me with his passion for coaching and teaching,” he went on. “Other influences with the Heat are Ron Rothstein, Bob McAdoo who’s a Hall of Famer, Jeff Bzdelik and Marc Iavaroni – all of them showed such great enthusiasm for their jobs that it became contagious.”

In a previous STAR interview, Spoelstra said he was invited by Jim Kelly to play in the PBA but the opportunity to work for Miami came up.

Kelly, who is married to a Filipina, coached in Germany where Spoelstra played and was a PBA coaching consultant before joining the Toronto Raptors where he is now the director of player personnel.

“I really would have cherished the opportunity to play in the Philippines out of college but I also had some wonderful experiences in Germany and when I started my career with the Heat,” said Spoelstra. “I don’t have any immediate plans to visit the Philippines yet but only because I will be so busy planning for this first year. Obviously, this first year is extremely important and I have a lot of preparation to do. I’d love to spend time in the Philippines sometime in the future.”

Since the STAR broke the story about Spoelstra’s Filipino heritage during the NBA Finals in 2006, he has been deluged by requests for interviews and appearances by Fil-Am groups. That year, he was featured in a cover story as Miami’s “secret weapon” in Filipinas Magazine, a monthly publication for Filipinos in the US.

“Yes, I have been receiving more media requests from Filipino media over the years, especially since last week’s announcement,” said Spoelstra. “It’s a tremendous honor for me to receive the promotion from the Heat and to receive the media recognition that I have, including the cover story in Filipinas. I’m very proud of my heritage so all of the Filipino media coverage has been exciting for me to receive.”

Spoelstra, however, has been to the Philippines only once – when he was three years old.

Spoelstra said despite Miami finishing last in the NBA with a lowly 15-67 record this past regular season, he is positive about the future.

“Our first immediate objective this summer is to get our current guys, who are under contract, healthy, in shape, focused and ready to go when training camp starts in October,” he continued. “We feel very positive about our young, athletic core. We have the draft lottery on May 20 and the NBA draft on June 26. We hope to get an impact player in the draft then make a few key free agent signings to complement our team.”

When informed that San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland, Golden State assistant coach Keith Smart and Miami cager Earl Barron had played in the PBA, Spoelstra said he’ll talk to them about their impressions on the Philippines.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss the experiences of playing basketball in the Philippines with Keith or the others,” he said. “I’d love to hear about their experiences if the opportunity comes up.”

Spoelstra’s 67-year-old mother, fondly called “Baling” by relatives, has a sister and two brothers living in the Philippines. Her oldest sister Fe has passed away. A sister Esperanza resides in Naga. Brother Tony lived over 10 years in the US and is now based in Los Ba├▒os. Another brother Cecilio is a surgeon at the Philippine Heart Center.

Spoelstra’s first cousin Dr. Andy Dimayuga of San Pablo said the family is proud that a Fil-Am has finally broken the coaching barrier in the NBA.

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