NBA Finals: Young coaches take parallel paths to the finals

The Heat's Erik Spoelstra or Thunder's Scott Brooks will soon join an elite company of title-winning coaches
BY ANTHONY SLATER, Staff Writer, aslater@opubco.com Published: June 11, 2012

There's Kevin Durant and LeBron James, two superstars at the peak of their powers, competing for the crown of NBA's best player.

There's Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, two supremely talented sidekicks, each with a chance to neutralize the other and swing the series.

There's Oklahoma City and Miami, two teams and cities viewed by the nation as polar opposites, pairing hard work against flash with a title on the line.

This year, more than any recent NBA Finals, is loaded with juicy story lines and intriguing cross-matchups.

But one of the most important and least appealing battles is on the sidelines between two of the youngest coaches in the league.

Miami's Erik Spoelstra against Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks.

“Yeah, I don't think that will take top billing,” Heat forward Shane Battier joked. “There's a few other story lines that will sell some papers, but if you are a fan of the coaching circles, it's pretty exciting.”

Over the past 25 seasons, spanning back to the 1987 Finals, there are only eight coaches who have won NBA championships. With Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley hogging the hardware, it's an exclusive club.

But that VIP table, filled with living legends and surefire Hall of Famers, will have to make room for some fresh blood.

Brooks is 46. Spoelstra is 41. Combined, it's the youngest pairing of Finals coaches since Popovich (50) and Jeff Van Gundy (37) met in 1999.

And now, with both on a successful coaching fast track, one will wrap up his fourth season at the helm with an NBA title, vaulting him into the elitist of company.

“It's good that we got some fresh faces,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “Got some guys who started young and kind of worked their way up and are now head coaches. They brought their team this far and now one gets a title.”

They got to this point differently, with Brooks easing into his role after a long playing career and Spoelstra climbing the organizational ranks with relentless effort, ascending from video coordinator to head man.

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