Erik Spoelstra is 45 and looks younger. I mean, going to four consecutive NBA Finals should make a man as gray as four years in the Oval Office but Spo still has a jet-black head of hair and appears ready to take part in any drill if the Miami Heat ever run short of practice players.
Some of this stuff masks what he has become, which is one of the league’s long-timers.
Among active coaches only gruff Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 20 seasons, has been running the same team for a longer period of time. Spo is tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, each of them at eight seasons and counting in their current jobs.
As the Heat and Toronto Raptors prepare to open an Eastern Conference semifinal series, it seems a good time to congratulate Pat Riley, again, for making such a good choice for his successor in Miami.
Sure, Spo was handed the Big Three on a platter. Sure, he could have won more than two NBA titles with them. Sure, there are reasons to downplay any coach’s contributions to any grand achievement.
Bottom line, though, Spo has kept the team together through all kinds of divisive moments, including LeBron’s departure and Chris Bosh’s medical issues. Now there’s even a flap about Bosh wanting to get back into uniform while the organization continues to wrestle with what is smart and what is safe and what is potentially actionable.
No matter. The Heat keep on winning, as they did in the seven-game series with Charlotte just completed, and Spo keeps on figuring ways to keep them viable as Eastern Conference championship contenders.
Get this. Spo already has more postseason wins (67) than Riley did as Miami coach. What’s more, he’s got more playoff wins than Riley and Stan Van Gundy and Kevin Loughery combined (55) when they were coaching the Heat.
The longer view is where it really gets interesting.
In all of NBA history, there is only one coach with a higher career winning percentage in the playoffs than Spo. His name is Phil Jackson.
Here’s the list, with the qualifier that these are coaches who worked at least 50 postseason games.
Coach Playoff wins Playoff losses Pct.
Phil Jackson 229 104 .688
Erik Spoelstra 67 39 .632
John Kundla 60 35 .632
Billy Cunningham 66 39 .629
Gregg Popovich 157 95 .623
Larry Costello 37 23 .617
Larry Bird 32 20 .615
Pat Riley 171 111 .606
Chuck Daly 75 51 .595
Red Auerbach 99 69 .589
Never heard of John Kundla? He coached the Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan in pro basketball’s formative years in a time so different that Kundla decided not to move with the franchise to Los Angeles. He stayed in Minneapolis to coach the University of Minnesota instead.
Spo fits somewhere in between those ancient legends and more recent ring-collectors like Jackson and Riley and Pop. Let’s see where he’ll be in another dozen years, though. If he’s still in Miami and if Riley can lure another major free agent or two along the way, Spo might yet climb near the top of every list.
For today, though, he’s a pretty good man to match up against Toronto’s Dwyane Casey, who is learning fast in his fifth season as an NBA coach but has a career playoff winning percentage of .389.