Filipino-American coach Erik Spoelstra, who won an NBA championship with the Miami Heat last June, has very few regrets about his professional life. Missing out on a chance to play in the PBA, though, might be one of them.
“If I could’ve taped up my ankles and put on some knee braces last night (at the PBA game), I would’ve,” said Spoelstra. “That looked like a lot of fun.”
Spoelstra watched Game Five of the PBA Governors’ Cup finals series between Rain or Shine and B-MEG Wednesday night. The Llamados won, 91-81, to extend the finals to at least another game.
“That was probably my only regret in life. I don’t think it’s good to live in regret but I was able to play a couple of years in Europe, and the plan was to hopefully comeback through here on my way back to the States.”
After playing college ball, Spoelstra played two years in Germany while keeping open the possibility of moving to the Philippines to play in the PBA in mind, through the prompting of Toronto Raptors scout Jim Kelly.
That didn’t happen, as Spoelstra was given the chance to join the Miami Heat organization in the NBA as a video coordinator at the age of 25, which worked out well for him as he later became the first Asian-American head coach in US professional sports, and an NBA champion coach with the Heat.
During the physical Game Five encounter, Spoelstra was reminded of the warnings of Kelly about the physicality of the PBA game when Spoelstra was mulling over playing here in the early 90s.
“I remember when Jim Kelly was over here over 20 years ago and he first recruited me for a possible opportunity of playing in the PBA, that’s what he continued to warn me about. ‘Hey this isn’t American college basketball, this is physical basketball where officials let tough action go,’ and that’s what I saw last night. It was great to see,” Spoelstra said.
“I think the PBA is an excellent league. There’s so much excitement and passion for the game over here. Anybody that loves playing the game would love playing in the environment I saw last night.”
Though he admitted having a friendship with B-MEG coach Tim Cone, and visited the Llamados locker room after the game, Spoelstra declined to choose a side in the ongoing finals series.
“I hope the series goes seven games. I can’t root for one team over the other. I just hope it goes to seven. I think it’s good for basketball fans here.”