THE most powerful man in the world had just given Miami Heat Fil-Am coach Eric Spoelstra a pat on the back for a job well done.
President Barrack Obama personally congratulated LeBron James and the rest of the Heat hours after they clinched the NBA championship with a 121-106 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five.
Obama, a basketball fan himself, made the gesture by making a call to Spoelstra while aboard Air Force One, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Earnest said Obama told the Heat coach that he “looks forward to celebrating their NBA championship.” The U.S. president traditionally invites champions of all major sports to the White House every year.
“He complimented the performance of the players and coaches noting that the team seemed to get stronger as the playoffs wore on," Earnest said in a statement shortly after Obama’s plane arrived in Tampa, Florida for campaign events.
Spoelstra, 41, became the first head coach of Filipino lineage to win an NBA title. In 2006, he was part of the Heat team that also won the championship as one of Pat Riley’s coaching staff.
A former starting point guard from the University of Portland, he is the son of many-time NBA executive Jon Spoelstra and Elisa Celino, a Filipina from San Pablo, Laguna.
Spoelstra, who admits fondness for Filipino food like pansit and adobo, had been a yearly visitor in the country since 2009, conducting basketball clinics around the Metro Manila areas and nearby provinces.
Spoelstra basically rose from the ranks, beginning his career as the Heat’s video coordinator in 1995, promoted as scouting director, and later on, as assistant coach.
A protégé of Riley, now team president of the Heat, Spoelstra assumed the head coaching job from his mentor when he was named to the post in 2008, becoming the first Asian-American to earn the privilege in all four major American sports leagues.
During the championship presentation, Spoelstra proclaimed to the world that he is a `big Manny Pacquiao fan,’ and went on to compare the success of the Heat to a boxer’s own struggle inside the ring.