Filipinos can play in the NBA, says Heat’s Fil-Am coach Spoelstra

080428_spoelstraNBA playoff-bound Filipino-American coach Erik Spoelstra can no longer hide his feelings. He said Filipinos can play in the NBA. His stock in assessing the ability of Filipino players rose last week when he guided the lowly regarded Heat to the NBA playoffs.

When the Eastern Conference playoffs open this weekend, Spoelstra’s fifth-ranked Miami Heat will visit the No. 4 Atlanta Hawks.

A proud Filipino nation will be rooting for his success in the same manner that he takes pride of being the first ever Filipino-American and Asian-American to coach an NBA team.

When Miami Heat president Pat Riley, one of NBA’s legendary coaches, stepped down last year as head coach last year, he anointed the 38-year-old Spoelstra as his successor and the 14th coach of the team

“I believe Erik Spoelstra is one of the most talented young coaches who are technologically skilled, innovative and bring fresh new ideas. That’s what we feel we are getting with Erik Spoelstra. He’s a man who was born to coach,” said Riley.

Not only was Riley’s prophecy self-fulfilling, Spoelstra was also overachieving.

Riley’s Miami Heat last year merely won 15 games for the season.

This year, Spoelstra’s guided the Heat to win 43 games, a 28-game improvement. Not only that, Miami is also in the playoffs this year.

As if wanting his modest success rub off to Filipino players, Erik said, “several years ago, if you ask anybody if a Filipino or a Filipino-American can become an NBA head coach, the question would have elicited this reply: ‘That’s a crazy question.’”

As the NBA goes international, Spoelstra thinks it will no longer be a “crazy question” if someone asks him if a Filipino or Filipino-American can play in the NBA.

“Yes, anything can happen. The opportunities now for players are really global. The NBA is welcoming any player from any country in the world and every player from out there; picks the right player, the right situation, the right time.

“Yao Ming (of China) broke down a lot of barriers. Twenty-five years ago, I don’t know if anybody will say that there will be a perennial all-star in the NBA, coming from China.
“We have an MVP years ago from Germany,” Spoelstra said, referring to Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, the first German MVP in the NBA.

“The game is now so much more global than it has ever been. The game of basketball obviously is a pastime in the Philippines and I can definitely say there is a possibility.”

Spoelstra added he also plans to do an NBA-type basketball clinic during the off-season in the Philippines. He said this is his way of appreciating the support of the Filipino-Americans and the Filipino people to his young career. “I feel honored” to do the clinic.”

“Hopefully, the fact that a Filipino-American has the opportunity to be head coach of the NBA, I am hopeful that this will open up more doors and more dreams for the Filipinos out there.”

“And that if they believe that they can do anything, then they can do it, if they put their hearts and minds into it.”

The six-foot-one Spoelstra was lured as player-coach of German professional team Tus Herten for two years. It was right after he graduated from the University of Portland with a degree in communications in 1992.

“I would have been playing in the Philippines if I were not playing in Germany,” said the 38-year old Portland, Oregon native Spoelstra.

He is the son of Jon Spoelstra, a long-time NBA executive, who has guided the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and New Jersey Nets. His mother is Filipino, Elisa Celino, who lived outside Manila

Spoelstra was the Pilots’ starting point guard for four years and was named as the West Coast Conference freshman of the year. After college, he spent two years as player-coach for Tus Herten, a German professional team, before joining the Heat as the team’s video coordinator in 1995. – via GMANews.TV

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