The Miami Heat are on fire. They've ripped through the Eastern Conference, playing inspired team basketball. They are the sum of their parts, a machine working beautifully in perfect concert, an energetic and selfless symphony conducted by the criminally unappreciated Erik Spoelstra — who at the young age of 50 has already put together an undeniable Hall of Fame career.
Erik Spoelstra, Hall of Famer is not a phrase being thrown around very much at Pennsylvania diners or sports-shouting editorial meetings with great regularity, so it may be a bit arresting to accept this reality without digging deeper.
That's fine. Demonstrating the greatness is light work.
Spoelstra has now made the NBA Finals in five of his 12 seasons. Only three coaches have won more conference crowns. He's four wins from his third world championship. Only five coaches in the history of the game have won more. His .591 career winning percentage ranks sixth among leaders who have had tenures of equal length. He's been under .500 only twice, with 37- and 39-win seasons in those so-called "down years."
Miami, as an organization, bobs when the rest of the league weaves. The Heat don't rebuild. They reload. And win. With great regularity. The mere suggestion that taking steps backward to move forward is an affront to the Pat Riley-Spoelstra relationship, which has been both successful and instructive in proving that there's more than one pathway to success.
That partnership has fruitful years ahead. The roster has a core of attractive young talent and the deadly shooting that could surround any number of marquee free-agent alphas. In fact, it's not crazy to daydream a bit about where Spoelstra's career could end up if he continues to pace the sidelines for another 15 years. Empirically, may be able to match resumes with all but the top two or three of all-time if this pace of winning continues. And while we're casting the future, it seems reasonable to think he'll never be appreciated or adequately celebrated for his accomplishments.
Consider where he stacks up against the coaching glitterati even now. At 50. With a chance to lift another Larry O'Brien in a few days. These facts and figures are a bit astounding.
Erik Spoelstra: .591 winning percentage, 5 conference championships 2* NBA titles
Chuck Daly: .593 winning percentage, 3 conference championships, 2 NBA titles
Larry Brown: .548 winning percentage, 3 conference championships, 1 NBA title
Jerry Sloan: .603 winning percentage, 2 conference championships, no title
Lenny Wilkens: .536 winning percentage, 2 conference championships, 1 NBA title
Doc Rivers: .581 winning percentage, 2 conference championships, 1 NBA title.
In a few years, we may collectively confront a reality that's been hidden in plain view all this time. Perhaps Spoelstra and Riley work so well together because Spoelstra is the next Riley. His coaching life force made new again, winning at absurd levels. They may very well end up on the Coaching Mount Rushmore together, which would be fitting.
Win or lose against the Lakers, Spoelstra has cemented his place in Springfield. And perhaps done it more quietly than any person ever associated with the game. But dammit if it's going to be harder to ignore if Miami pulls this off.