Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t always agree with David Fizdale’s suggestions and he joked that he threw him out of his office many times when the two worked together. But Spoelstra always appreciated Fizdale’s mind, viewpoint and ability to challenge him.
Spoelstra is widely considered one of the NBA’s best coaches. He wouldn’t be if not for the influence of the Knicks’ new coach.
“Fiz definitely made me better,” Spoelstra said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “We had some epic, legendary fights. We would challenge each other all the time. Fiz was not afraid to share his opinion. I wanted him to challenge me, question things, make me look at things in a different lens. And he constantly did that.
“Because of our friendship we had that type of understanding that we could push boundaries to get the best possible result that we were looking for or to get something different that neither one of us thought. Some of those times were epic arguments. Other staff members would have to step in and thought that we were getting too personal about it. But neither one of us actually viewed it that way. It was more about trying to make each other better.
“Fiz made me a better coach. He thought the game differently than I did, from a different lens and I enjoyed coming to work every single day getting his perspective, which often made me look at things differently.”
Fizdale spent eight years working for Spoelstra as an assistant or associate head coach. Fizdale was a part of the Heat teams that reached four straight NBA Finals and won two titles. But their relationship goes back 21 years when Spoelstra and Fizdale worked together in the Heat’s video department.
Spoelstra said Fizdale isn’t much different. He just has more money now, but the Knicks are richer to have him as their coach.
“You’re going to have an incredibly passionate coach and teacher and motivator,” Spoelstra said. “I think Fiz is one of the best basketball minds out there. He’s extremely creative. He’s got a terrific work ethic to match. He’s a versatile coach. He can show that he’s effective in all the different levels, player development, coaching, player management, X’s and O’s, all of those things.
“I just think he’s very advanced. He’s one of my closest friends, but I say all of that objectively. He’s a very talented basketball mind and coach.”
Fizdale has been called a player’s coach. He clashed with Memphis center Marc Gasol, which led to Fizdale being fired just 19 games into this past season. But other superstar players, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have respect and admiration for Fizdale. Spoelstra said it’s because of how selfless Fizdale is.
“He just wants to help guys get better — and players sense that,” Spoelstra said. “Regardless of how much experience you have, how much you’ve been in the league, whatever your background is, if players feel that they can trust you and you really are there just to help and you’ve proven you can help make them better, then players will be all-in with you.
“Fiz has that quality. He’s real. He’s authentic. He’s not going to have a fake personality with one guy to win somebody over. He is who he is. Like or leave him, but he’s there to help you. That’s an endearing quality and players sense that right away. He’ll do anything for staff members, for players and in turn you want to do anything for him.”
One of the reasons the Knicks were drawn to Fizdale was his time spent with the Heat. Team president Pat Riley has created one of the best cultures in the NBA.
The Heat is always stressing defense, player development, conditioning and accountability. The Knicks have been talking about that a lot lately, but they have been come up well short in those areas over the years. Now they have someone who has lived it and they hope Fizdale will bring that to New York.
“We don’t say we do things better or worse than anybody,” Spoelstra said. “We believe in what we do. We’ve adapted over the years as well. We feel very strongly about the culture here at the Miami Heat. It’s a culture of family. So many of us have worked together for those 23 years with Pat and [owner] Mickey [Arison]. We have a culture of consistency, of accountability, of hard work and we hope that our teams are a reflection of that. But it starts with the staff and that continuity and consistency and accountability to our standards.”
Riley was one of the people Knicks executives spoke to about Fizdale. Spoelstra said he would have talked to the Knicks, but there was no need as soon as Riley vouched for Fizdale.
“After you talk to Pat you don’t need to talk to me,” he said. “After you talk to ‘The Godfather’ and he gives the go-ahead you don’t need to talk to anybody else. Shut down all the other interviews. You don’t have to call the references, any of that. You talked to the guy you needed to talk to.”