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Filipino Miami Heat Coach Is First Asian in NBA

Philippine News, News Feature, Posted: Aug 12, 2009

With the advent of globalization, Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra wouldnt be surprised if one day a breakthrough Filipino player would finally make it to the NBA. Why not? Think big. Its gonna happen at some point, said the soft-spoken mentor. He didnt even go far and cited his case as the first Asian-American coach in the worlds premiere basketball league.

In case you dont know, Spoelstra is half Filipino, his mother, the former Elisa Celino is from San Pablo, Laguna, while his father, Joe worked as an NBA executive for teams such as Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, Buffalo Braves and New Jersey Nets. I dont think anybody would have thought five years ago that there would ever be an Asian-American head coach in any major league in America.

Things can happen. I think the world is changing. Its becoming more global, said the former University of Portland stalwart, who worked his way up to become the current coach of the Heat team that features star players Dwayne Wayde and Jermaine ONeal. Spoelstra went back to his roots for a week-long coaching clinic as part of the US Department of States Sports Envoy Program.

Along with Heat assistant David Fizdale and St. Francis College assistant coach and former WNBA All-Star Sue Wick, Spoelstra had been busy going from one clinic to another the past few days, but was generous enough to accommodate the special luncheon hosted by the PBA and Powerade Thursday at Kamayan-Edsa.

PBA commissioner Sonny Barrios and Powerade-Team Pilipinas manager Jose Bayani Baylon were present during the quick, but very entertaining affair also attended by league Board of Governors Robert Non, Rene Pardo, and Atty. Memerto Mondragon of Rain or Shine and coaches Yeng Guiao, Jong Uichico of Ginebra, Tim Cone of Alaska, Barako Bulls Leo Isaac and Boyet Fernandez Sta. Lucia.

Reminded that a Filipino player by the name of Johnny Abarrientos was once considered by an NBA team, Spoelstra said it doesnt really matter whether the first local player in the NBA is a big man, a guard or a PBA superstar.

It will just take the right timing, the right player and the right mentality, he pointed out. The 38-year-old Heat coach, who was barely three years old when he last visited the country, even mentioned the case of retired NBA superstar Damon Stoudamire. I dont know whether it would be a point guard, shooting guard, small forward. I dont know. But there are small players in the NBA who made a big impact.

I grew up with one of them. In Portland, hes an older player who just retired last year. Hes Damon Stoudamire and he had a heck of a career in the league. Hes only 5-9, said Spoelstra of the pint-sized guard who was the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year.

He just came up around my shoulder and we grew up together. But he kicked my butt all the time every which way it possibly could, he said, eliciting a good laugh from his curious audience.

Spoelstra also delved into other interesting subjects, including his work as Miami Heat coach.

*On his working relationship with great NBA coach Pat Riley.
Coach riley is a phenomenal. The first time I started working for him, hes like an icon for me. I remembered him from the Laker days. I have his books. And the first time Ive met him I was really nervous.

The first year I worked with him, he says Ive been working for him for over a year and yet he didnt know my name.

Im honored that he trusts me enough. But hes phenomenal as a boss, more so now as a mentor.

*On his probable role to further develop basketball in the country.
Hopefully just to help in any way possible because its the no. 1 sport in the Philippines

* On whether he speaks any Tagalog word/s
I cant. But Im trying to learn some words. I think the kids are trying to teach me some foul words. Ill try my best the rest of the week to learn.

*On Filipino food
My cousin makes great lumpia.

*On ex-PBA import and one-time NBA player Billy Ray Bates.

I grew up watching him since hes also from Portland. Im a big fan of him. Until now, hes a legend in Portland. -- PNS

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