The NBA Finals’ Pinoy Ingredients

Miami Heat president Pat Riley, assistant coach David Fizdale and head coach Erik Spoelstra celebrate their back-to-back NBA championship in Miami. (Source: AP)

Filipinos always look for that Pinoy connection to evoke their Filipino pride, whether it’s the next YouTube child sensation, a newly elected official of Filipino descent, or even foreigners who love living in Philippines and claimed it as their home.

As the confetti rained down on the Miami Heat’s 95-88 Game Seven win over the San Antonio Spurs, Filipino basketball fans rejoiced as one of their own, coach Erik Spoelstra, celebrated his second championship with the team. It’s well known that the son of NBA executive Jon Spoelstra and Elisa Celino has paid his dues by rising up from the coaching staff ranks, starting as a video coordinator in 1995, moving up to assistant coach two years later and finally ending up as legendary coach Pat Riley’s chosen successor as head coach in 2008. 

At the recent NBA Championship, the Filipino connection could be found on both sides of basketball court.

Spoelstra has always been credited with honing superstar Dwayne Wade’s shooting performance. In 2010 he gained widespread media attention on the signing of superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh, which put the Heat in the position to win multiple championships with this A-list trio. Though falling short in the 2011 championship series against the Dallas Mavericks, Spoelstra won his first title as Miami Heat coach against the Oklahoma City Thunder a year later.

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland on the sidelines (Source:

On the other side, the San Antonio Spurs had nothing to be ashamed of as they fought the champions valiantly till the end of the series. At the post-game briefing, coach Gregg Popovich credits the preparedness of his rising star, Kawhi Leonard, to assistant coach Arthur “Chip” Engelland.

The Pacific Palisades, California-born Chip Engelland is known to Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) fans as part of the powerhouse Northern Consolidated Cement (NCC)/San Miguel Beer team, which won the William Jones Cup in 1985. In 1981, Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco, who was appointed the director of basketball operations in the Philippines, assembled a national team that catapulted the country back to the top of international competitions. Due to the establishment of the PBA, the country’s best players were ineligible for overseas tournaments. 

Chip Engelland training San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (Source:

The new national team would include non-native players, a practice not unusual as European teams already draft American players to beef up their teams. The team recruited naturalized Filipinos Jeff Moore and Dennis Still and Fil-Am players William Pearson and Ricardo Brown. Two years later, the team brought in Engelland, who was known for his shooting prowess while being on Mike Krzyzewski’s 1982-1983 Duke University Blue Devils. During its run from 1981-86, the NCC/San Miguel Beer team won 1981 and 1985 Jones Cup, the 1984 ABC Club Championship and 1985 PBA Reinforced Conference title.

Chip Engelland, during his basketball years (1983-86) in the Philippines: (Left photo) Engelland (seated, second from left) with the Northern Consolidated Cement/San Miguel Beer team (Source: (Right photo) Playing in the PBA (Source:

Chip Engelland, during his basketball years (1983-86) in the Philippines: (Left photo) Engelland (seated, second from left) with the Northern Consolidated Cement/San Miguel Beer team (Source: (Right photo) Playing in the PBA (Source:

In 1993, after playing nine years in the PBA, the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and World Basketball League (WBL), Engelland started his coaching career, aiming to help players improve their shooting ability. He has served with the Detroit Pistons as shooting consultant from 1999-2000 and with the Denver Nuggets as director of player development from 2003-2004. In 2005 he joined the San Antonio Spurs as assistant coach. Through his coaching different teams and basketball clinics, he has helped other well-known NBA shooters such as Steve Kerr, Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Miller and Tony Parker.

According to an L.A. Times article, former Pistons coach Alvin Gentry called Engelland, "the best shooting coach in the league."

Erik Spoelstra, the Filipino American coach of the current NBA champion, the Miami Heat, talks about his pride in his Filipino heritage and how his annual return to his mother's homeland to do basketball clinics for young people is the "highlight of my summer." Interview by veteran broadcaster Lloyd LaCuesta for Positively Filipino.