NBC 6's Kristina Pink talked to fans gathered outside the AmericanAirlines Arena after the Miami Heat Beat the Thunder.
Save for LeBron James (and maybe Chris Bosh, but that is debatable), no member of the Miami Heat is feeling more vindicated than head coach Erik Spoelstra. He can finally quiet the naysayers who deemed him a boy among the men playing for the Miami Heat, the former video assistant not much older than his own players, not the leader and strategist the team supposedly needed.
This championship is as much his as any of the players. The Heat could not have won anything without the Big Three (or many others on the roster), but they could not have done it without Spoelstra either. Between his strategic vision and his ability to keep his team focused through all the controversies, uproars, tiffs, and squabbles, it is clear that Spoelstra is the right coach for this team.
When the Big Three united in Miami in the summer of 2010, it seemed like only a matter of time that the trio would lure Heat president Pat Riley down from his executive suite to the court. With the memory of Stan Van Gundy retiring in 2005 fresh in mind (conspiracy theorists will always maintain that he resigned at Riley's behest following a slow start just after losing the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games the season before), it seemed like the ax could fall on Spo at the first sign of trouble.
But Riley seemingly never wavered in his confidence in Spoelstra, not when the Heat started the 2010/11 season 9-8, not during Bumpgate or the reported mutiny, not after the Heat lost the 2011 NBA Finals and Spoelstra seemed to be outcoached by Dallas' Rick Carlisle.
Spoelstra survived, and rewarded Riley's loyalty by outcoaching every coach he faced in the 2012 playoffs, winning the Finals without a center and two other series with Chris Bosh recovering from an abdominal injury.
"Erik Spoelstra's our coach," Wade said when he re-signed with the Heat in 2010. "He's 100% our coach...We're looking forward to seeing him grow."
The team grew with him. Spoelstra's democratic management style (players are encouraged "to voice their opinion on certain situations, either at practice or in a game, no matter what the magnitude of the game is," according to LeBron James), is a perfect complement to the veteran core he leads.
The Miami Heat organization is often described as a family. Spoelstra is not the stern father figure, but more the oldest brother who takes over the family business when Dad (Riley) retires. He is in charge, but treats his charges with a surprising degree of equality, though he does not give up all leadership privileges.
This much is clear: In a few years when Spoelstra finds some free time, he could probably write a book on leadership and sell millions of copies to middle managers all across America. If that isn't the sign of a championship-caliber NBA coach, then nothing is.