ORLANDO, Fla. - Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler celebrated Tyler Herro's 37-point outburst in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals by wearing the rookie's high school jersey to the team's practice the following day.
After the Heat clinched a spot in the NBA Finals two games later, Butler dug even deeper into his closet for the perfect sartorial tribute - a University of Portland jersey with Erik Spoelstra's name and number on the back.
"I've got quite a few jerseys tucked away in my room - it's just when is the right time to pull them out," Butler said Tuesday on the eve of his NBA Finals debut. "But Spo has been huge for me in my growth here as a player, as a leader, as a human being, so I'm grateful for him."
Spoelstra's journey to a place alongside the NBA's best coaches has been well-chronicled. He, like Lakers coach Frank Vogel, began working from inside NBA film rooms, with one rival executive joking that there's never been a better time for a video coordinator to try to get a promotion.
Before that he played at Portland, where he was an all-conference point guard who was on the court the night Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers collapsed and died during a game in 1990.
He worked his way from that film room to become one of Pat Riley's most trusted assistants with the Heat. The two still operate in total concert - Spoelstra calls Riley "The Godfather" - in planning how to win. He's even getting unending praise from his former player, and current competition.
LeBron James defended Spoelstra from any perceived disrespect that came from their time together in Miami, when pundits thought anyone could coach James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"If you watch the Miami Heat, no matter who's on the floor, they're going to play Heat culture. They're going to play hard. They're going to play together. That's what he's always been about," James said Tuesday. "It's been you guys that have changed the narrative or has never given Spo his respect because he had D-Wade or he had myself or he had Bosh. But a lot of coaches have talent. ... It's unfortunate that he hasn't gotten his respect. Every time we talked about Spo when I was there and we talked about how great he prepared us, and we talked about how great it was playing for Spo and things of that nature, you guys always said, 'Well, you have LeBron, you have D-Wade, you have Bosh. Any coach can do it.'
"No, any coach can't do it. If any coach could do it, then there would be a lot more champions in this league."
It's a different message than the one James reportedly pushed 17 games into his time with the Heat, when the team was 9-8 and there were rumors that James was done with Spoelstra, Riley's hand-picked successor at age 37 in 2008.