MIAMI — When David Fizdale finished up practice at American Airlines Center Tuesday afternoon he walked off the court and in recounting memories of his years working here for the Heat, he pointed at the championship banners, proud to have been a part of it.
But his enduring memories of his time in Miami is not the waterfront arena or the banners hanging in the rafters. It is the beginning, working with Erik Spoelstra, now the coach of the Heat, in the video coordinators office, preparing for the enemy — the Knicks.
“I was the intern to the video coordinator,” Fizdale said. “I was the cellar. I was the bottom. Spo was the video coordinator.”
Spoelstra remained in Miami, becoming an assistant coach and then taking over as head coach, a role he has held for 11 seasons. Fizdale left for college jobs before returning to the NBA for brief stops with Golden State and Atlanta before joining Spoelstra in Miami where the two helped oversee the championship runs of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But it was the humble beginnings in the cellar that he recalls now as he prepares to shift sides in the Heat-Knicks rivalry. And it still hurts him to think of Allan Houston’s game-winning shot in Game 5 of the 1998-99 playoffs. Houston now occupies an office across the hall from Fizdale as the Knicks assistant general manager and GM of the team’s G League affiliate.
“I remember staying up. we prepped for the series,” he said. “Spo and I stayed up 36 or 48 hours. You lose track after 12 Diet Cokes or whatever the heck we had. We stayed up two days straight basically prepping. in those days it was deck to deck. We didn’t have no technology. It was two VCR’s and you were making these edits, player edits and scout edits. Yeah, we put a lot into that.
“Then that whole year, it was a fist fight every game. Some kind of melee broke out. There was never a time we played that somebody didn’t get kicked out. So by the time the playoffs rolled around it was like, oh, we hate these guys. And then Allan Houston just ripped our hearts out. It is an ironic thing. It’s great, he’s been so supportive and awesome.”
After his time in Miami, Fizdale had a short run as head coach in Memphis before things turned sour and he was fired just 19 games into his second season. The Knicks job came this summer and he said with his roots in player development, it’s a better fit.
“This probably is more my genealogy,” Fizdale said. “I came through development and I learned from the great ones. Spo was one of the great development assistant coaches this league’s ever seen. . . . I’m rooted in that. The challenge for me — I was really happy to go through what I went through in Memphis. Because that was me being a young coach having to go in there and deal with veterans that had success. That was a great education for me.”
The lessons he imparts now, valuing the roots of his coaching tree, are a long way from the glamorous spot that he and Spoelstra will meet Wednesday night — even if Fizdale is helming a team far from ready to compete. He still can look up at the banners and take a lead role, a far cry from where he began.
“I didn’t travel. I didn’t go to practice,” Fizdale said. “Pat [Riley] wouldn’t let me come to practice. . . . Our office was in the rat trap, the Miami Arena over there. But yeah, I was just grinding man. I was a grunt. I was a runner. We would meet Stan Van Gundy at the plane at four in the morning, drop off some tapes. He’d go back to the office. We’d go back to the video room. We lived in that place, Spo and I. That’s a big part of our bond. We were together 24 hours a day for a whole year and it really solidified a great relationship.”