MANILA, Philippines - Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra is back in the Philippines for the fourth time, but this is the first time he brings with him something extra special: the Larry O' Brien Championship trophy.
The NBA opened its trophy tour in the Philippines on Thursday, August 2, as Spoelstra faced the media in a crisp black suit and a smile on his face.
"Mabuhay!," he greeted. "It's a pleasure to be here!"
Spoelstra said it was a challenge to fit the tour into his schedule after a hectic summer, but that he had insisted on coming back to his mother's home country at least for a week.
The Fil-Am champion coach said that he is excited to share the joy the Heat had last month with their fans in the Philippines.
"This place is special obviously to my heart, my heritage is very important to me. Our players and our organization are very aware of the support that we receive out here. We love our fans out here," he said.
Charming the crowd
Spoelstra led the Miami Heat to an NBA championship with a 121-106 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder last June, winning the finals series 4-1.
He said nothing much has changed since the win, as he has chosen to keep his lifestyle the same, although he joked he's had to wear baseball caps more often, to avoid recognition.
The video coordinator turned head coach, also elicited some laughs when he was asked to name his Dream Team.
Spoelstra appeared thoughtful when asked the question, even pulling out a pen and paper to list down his choice of players.
"I would start with a point-guard, Mario Chalmers. This guy Dwyane Wade, let's start him too. There's an up and coming fellow named Lebron James, I'll put him on number 2, Udonis Haslem, one of my favorites, I'll put him on number 4, and let's finish it with this guy named Chris Bosh. That would be my Dream Team," said Spoelstra, naming the Heat's starting line-up.
Basketball in Southeast Asia
Aside from coaching some of the league's best players in winning a championship, Spoelstra has another success to be proud of.
Spoelstra is not only the first Asian-American head coach to win an NBA title, he is also the first head coach in any professional sports team in the United States.
He admitted he takes a lot of pride in being the first to accomplish that feat, which he hopes will influence others.
"Hopefully its opened up eyes and doors for people who didn't necessarily have the opportunity," he said.
But more importantly, Spoelstra said he hopes for the day when "heritage or background won't necessarily be the story, but what you can contribute to the game," adding that the increasing players from different countries playing in the NBA highlights the changing world we live in.
He acknowledged the growing popularity of the sport in Southeast Asia, the fastest growing fan base of the NBA.
"It staggers our players because they know how popular we are here, 10, 000 miles away," he said.
As for the Philippines, Spoelstra praised the PBA which he called "exciting," and said he was impressed by the physicality and the passion displayed by Filipino players. Proud of his Filipino blood, Spoelstra said not playing for the PBA is "probably my only regret in life."
He also expressed his interest in continuing to host NBA clinics here in the Philippines with young kids passionate about basketball, which he has done in the past.
Spoelstra is set to participate in an NBA Cares Clinic on Saturday, August 4, before he visits various malls throughout the weekend to meet fans and show off the trophy. - Rappler.com