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Erik Spoelstra has become one of the top coaches in the NBA. He’s shown he can get the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals with or without LeBron James.

Spoelstra took over for legendary coach Pat Riley as head coach in 2008 and has thrived ever since. As a player, he received many scholarship offers out of Jesuit High School in Beaverton, Oregon. Prior to his senior year of high school, Spoelstra attended a Nike All-Star Camp alongside future NBA players Alonzo Mourning and Shawn Kemp. How far did Spoelstra get in his playing career?

Erik Spoelstra might be the NBA’s top coach

Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at FTX Arena on April 26, 2022, in Miami, Florida. | Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

Spoelstra made an immediate impact during his first year as head coach of the Heat. In Riley’s final season, Miami went an NBA-worst 15-67, but Spoelstra engineered a significant turnaround.

During his rookie year as head coach in the 2008-09 season, the Heat won 43 games and reached the playoffs. They bowed out to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games. Spoelstra led the Heat to the playoffs for the first six seasons.

James came on board in Spoelstra’s third season with the Heat, and they reached the NBA Finals for the first of four straight seasons. Spoelstra won his first NBA title during the 2011-21 season and repeated as champions the following season.

After the 2013-14 campaign, James was on the move again, returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Spoelstra and the Heat missed the playoffs for the first time with a 37-45 record.

The following season, Spoelstra and the Heat bounced back nicely, reaching the conference semifinals after racking up 48 regular-season wins. Spoelstra guided the Heat back to the NBA Finals in 2020, when they lost to James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Spoelstra has the Heat as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this year.

Did Erik Spoelstra ever play in the NBA?

Spoelstra grew up in Buffalo before moving to Portland, Oregon. At Jesuit High School, he starred as a point guard, and decided to remain close to home when he graduated. He played college basketball at the University of Portland, where he was named the league’s Freshman of the Year.

He finished his college career as a 1,000-point scorer, and was on the court in 1990 when Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court.

“We were practicing in the gym one time before we played LMU,” Spoelstra recalled to the LA Times in 2015, “and you could look out one side and see the track. There was Hank, running as hard as he could, wearing a parachute.

“Talk about intimidating. We were all thinking, ‘Boy, we’ve got to play that guy.’”

Upon graduation, Spoelstra spent two years in Germany as a player/assistant coach. He never made it to the NBA as a player. According to The New York Times, he contemplated back surgery after his second season overseas. Instead, he accepted a job as video coordinator for the Heat, getting his foot in the door for the team he now coaches.

Spoelstra and the Heat face the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 2


Boston Celtics Nearly Set an NBA Record Nobody Wants in Loss to Milwaukee Bucks

The top-seeded Heat took care of business in the opening round of the playoffs, making quick work of the Atlanta Hawks. Next up? The Philadelphia 76ers.

The Sixers just finished off the Toronto Raptors but enter Round 2 without their best player in Joel Embiid. Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and a mild concussion at the end of the series-clinching game against Toronto. He will miss at least the first two games of the series.

Spoelstra knows the Sixers are much more than Embiid. He knows they have another superstar in James Harden. He expects the Sixers guard to make life difficult for the Heat.

“He definitely changes the dynamic,” Spoelstra said after Friday’s practice, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. “You’re talking about an MVP player. A guy who can manipulate the game; he can hurt you whether he’s scoring or whether he’s assisting, or whether he’s just manipulating the defense.”

The Heat aren’t without injury as Kyle Lowry is expected to miss Game 1 with a hamstring injury.