Norris Cole: 'Love from PH was obvious’ at Miami Heat championships
MANILA, Philippines – Former Miami Heat back-up point guard Norris Cole did not become a star when he entered the NBA, but he did experience something most players don’t in their first two seasons: winning championships.
Cole, now 27, was taken 28th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls but was immediately traded to the Miami Heat, which at that time was considered a title contender with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade leading the team.
The former Cleveland State standout played a back-up role to starter Mario Chalmers in the 2012 season, providing hustle and energy in spurts.
With his two-way play adding firepower to the team's depth, Miami won the NBA title that year after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals in 5 games.
In the following 2013 NBA season, Miami topped the regular season with a 66-16 record and won the NBA title after taking down the San Antonio Spurs in a 7-game finals.
“As we were winning those games and those championships, the love from the Philippines was obvious,” Cole reminisced on Wednesday, April 20, at the NBA Cafe in SM Aura. Along with WNBA legend Taj McWilliams-Franklin, he’s here for the Jr NBA/WNBA program.
“Everywhere we went, when there were Filipino fans, it was, like, you can hear the cheers.”
The Filipino connection to the Heat was mostly due to Miami’s Filipino-American head coach, Erik Spoelstra, who took over the job from Pat Riley in 2008. Prior to that, Spoelstra was an assistant coach since 1997.
The 45-year-old coach is also currently tied with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle (8) for being the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA today, behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (20).
“He’s definitely loved in Miami, and he’s loved here, and I’m glad to be able to have that time with him as my coach,” said Cole.
When asked if Spoelstra (two championships, All-Star Game coach in 2013, 7 playoff appearances) deserves more recognition in the conversation of best head coaches in the league, Cole highlighted his accomplishments and work ethic.
“His success speaks for itself,” said the point guard. “I’m sure all he focuses on is the positive aspects and that’s all I’m going to focus on.
“He’s won a lot of games, he works hard at his craft, and we had a lot of success together. That’s all that matters…nothing else really matters.”
Cole, who will be in his sixth NBA season next year, was traded from Miami to the New Orleans Pelicans in February 2015 in the deal that landed the Heat Goran Dragic.
This past season, Cole averaged career-highs of 10.6 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.4 rebounds a game, but missed the playoffs for the first time in his career as New Orleans limped to a 30-52 record.
As Cole looks back at what he’s done in his career so far, he’s appreciative of getting to learn from top-tier teammates.
“It was great having them as teammates,” Cole said about LeBron and Wade, bonafide future Hall-of-Famers. “You learn so much from them. They’re obviously icons in the game of basketball, globally. So I was fortunate to be able to [be] on a team with a lot of global icons.”
Cole also mentions being teammates with other notable Miami players, saying “Not just those two, but [also] Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Bosh…Mike Miller, Juwan Howard, all these different guys.
“So I was very fortunate, and I learned a lot from them and I continue to learn. I think that’s what it takes to be a great basketball player and to be successful in life, is to continue to learn.”
Cole is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, which means he can sign with any NBA team. But for now, he’s hoping to help young aspiring basketball hopefuls in the Philippines.
“I’m looking forward to interacting with the fans, I’m looking forward to the Jr NBA being able to interact with the athletes, and I’m looking forward to the culture here – learning something new,” he said. – Rappler.com