Coach Pop Know, but Coach Spoe Don’t Know

By Jason Stewart

If you watched the 2014 NBA Finals, you saw the San Antonio Spurs dominate the Miami Heat. The Spurs performed like a brilliant orchestra without any unbalanced solos but plenty of moments of recognition for every player. 

Meanwhile, the Miami Heat had the “Sexy Sax Man” trying to play all the parts to every song while his teammates struggled to find moments to fit in to a tune that they had become familiar with during the last two series of the Finals. 

It’s not fair for Miami Heat players to suffer verbal abuse at the hands of the basketball media analyst. Players like Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Shane Battier should not have to endure belittling comments from outside crowds for something that has been brewing for a while. 

Team Building

Have you ever played on a team with someone who wanted the ball ALL the time for every possession, every game, only so they could shoot? It’s one of the most annoying things of all time. Sure, LeBron James is the greatest basketball player on planet Earth at this time. There is no denying that. 

However, what Coach Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach know that Erik Spoelstra doesn’t is that you have to put your superstar in his place. That’s right. I said it. Auerbach, Jackson and Popovich all regulate how many times each player touches the ball by having an offensive system in place that requires more movement and touches for everyone. Sure, Jordan, Kobe and Ginobili have more room to be creative than others on their team. You must allow some room for more talented players. Yet, at the same time, you must not allow so much room that it hinders the ability of the other players and harms the chemistry on the floor. 

What Stats Can’t Show You

Your star player will always tell you that he wants the ball in his hands. Yet, as a coach, you have got to understand that if you bend to this all the time, it emasculates the other players on the team. 

Every player is on the court because they want to compete, not just contribute by passing the ball. It’s hard to play when you are thinking in the back of your mind that every decision you make that doesn’t include the star player will be criticized. Who wants to play on a team where everyone’s role is to pass to the star and get out of his way? I know that LeBron has an amazing assist stat line during the regular season and the first half of the playoffs. However, I wonder what that stat line looked like in the last series. At the end of it all, it’s not LeBron’s or his teammates’ fault. 

My point is that coaches must earn enough respect so they’re able to put a star player in his place using several methods without embarrassing his player or disrespecting his talent. We’ve seen countless times where Popovich is fussing and criticizing Duncan, Parker and Ginobili in front of the whole arena, yet his players respond with respect and a coachable attitude. I’m not in the huddles, so I can’t say that Spoelstra is not doing it, but what I will say is I recognize players who have lost their identity due to superstar teammates. 

But Coach, We are Winning

Can you win games by letting one person do all the work? Yes, you can. 

Is that all that matters? No, it is not. 

Why? Eventually, the role players will get tired of that role, and opposing coaches will draft strategies to stop your star player and you will need a developed team including bench players. If you don’t have those things, you will find that when the star faces an immovable defense, he will get frustrated and force plays or worse, blame his teammates. 

How to Coach a Team with Superstars

First, establish an offensive system that allows for everyone to touch the ball and make decisions with free will. Second, build close relationships with all your players without choosing favorites. Third, put specific plays in the playbook that highlight every position on the floor. 

Finally, understand that everyone on the team knows who the best player is. When the coach calls a play for that player in a critical moment, everyone will be OK with it because up until that point everyone has had the liberty to compete. 

Coach Stewart has basketball summer camps.

This year camps run June 30-July 3 and Aug. 11-15 at the Encinitas Recreation Center on Encinitas Boulevard and Balour. 

Register for Coach Stewart’s Wildcat Camps at You can email Jason at