We couldn’t fit every answer into this issue’s Boca Interview with the Sun Sentinel’s basketball guru Ira Winderman, so we’re sharing a few more of his insights with you here in this Web Extra.
Did you have a favorite basketball team before you started to cover the Heat?
I grew up in New York City, in Bayside in Queens, so I was a fan of all the New York teams. My teams growing up were the New York Knicks in basketball, the New York Rangers in hockey, the New York Mets in baseball, and the New York Giants in football, so I sort of had all my teams, but I just always naturally gravitated towards basketball. It just seemed to be the purest, simplest sport to enjoy.
Do you still have a soft spot for any of those New York teams today?
You know, it’s actually funny. It’s the exact opposite. I have an almost–whatever the opposite of soft-spot is for the Knicks, because they had been in so many brutal playoff series with the Heat over the years, and for more than a decade emerged as the Heat’s ultimate rival. It’s like the team I grew up loving, I almost grew to loathe just because of how incredibly intense those playoff series were when Pat Riley first got here, so it’s like my childhood passion sort of did a 180 when it came to rooting interests.
Do you find it arduous to have to sift through all of your Ask Ira submissions?
That’s the thing. We actually had to get a different email server and a different account, just so it wouldn’t overload my email. Usually when I come back from a game, I try to pick out the most current. I’m gonna be honest with you. Sometimes there are so many that the first three good questions I get, it’s like ‘okay!’
There might be better ones, but if it’s late, I’ll just get to those. So that’s sort of how I pick through. I do have chronics: you do have people who just show up every day in the mailbag, and I try to avoid using them too often, or else people think you sort of have a limited following, and I don’t want to give that impression.
You know what, it also gives me story ideas. A lot of times, a reader will say something, and I’ll go to myself: ‘I never thought of that,’ or ‘that’s a good point.’ I have one I’m working on right now. A lot of times people can think of things that I, in the moment and in the process, don’t necessarily think of.
Do you think there are any specific qualities in Erik Spoelstra’s coaching that have set him apart and helped him find such success?
He once told me this: he did not like the kind of coaches who sort of would attack their players and go at them publicly. He said he just didn’t think that works. On one hand, he can be stubborn, which kinda is incongruous, but on the other hand he has a real patience also. He understands players have to grow through growing pains, and that you have to wait on players, and that if you do have that patience, even if you can be impatient, it pays dividends also. And you see now with so many of his players, where at the start you say ‘this guy can’t play, this guy doesn’t fit,’ and Erik sees something maybe we don’t see and he says ‘give it time, I see good things; even with this bad loss, even with these blown leads, I see something better down the road.’
And I think the other thing is innovation. After he got LeBron James, he said ‘I don’t know why people think he can only do this. I’m gonna devise a system where he can do everything.’ And then he looked at Dwyane Wade and said ‘I know he can thrive on the ball, I’m gonna get him off the ball and make him one of the best cutting players in the NBA,’ and he did. And then he looked at Chris Bosh and said “you know what, if I give this guy a three-pointer, with his shooting range already, he’ll become that much better.’ and he did. So it’s those little things also. He’s innovative on the court, but he’s also been like Pat Riley was with the Lakers and showtime, also very innovative off the court.
If you could choose any one player to come to Miami, who would it be?
No question. I’d have to spell his name on deadline, but at least now I can. It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. For as much as he has done, I’d love to see what the Heat can do to take his game one step further. I’d love to see what Erik Spoelstra and the Heat developmental team can do for him that they–honestly– did for LeBron (gave him the post-game), did for Chris Bosh (gave him the outside shooting game), did for Dwyane Wade (made him more of a complete player and a point guard to a degree), so yeah I think that’s the guy. And that’s the name that everyone is looking at, also. It’s not just me. That’s just sort of the common theme: can the Heat get Giannis? And I think that’s what we’re waiting on.
Have you ever been star-struck by a player?
You know what, no. I’ve been star-struck once in my professional career as a sports writer, and that’s when I was covering auto racing. When I went to cover a race at Mid-Ohio Sports Park, and one of the drivers was the actor Paul Newman. And I sat in his trailer, and he was a real auto racing enthusiast. And when I was sitting there, looking at those blue eyes, I did say to myself ‘oh my god, that’s Paul Newman.’
But I think when it comes to the NBA, there’s always been enough of a comfort zone with the athletes that I never was. I’ve spent enough time with Michael Jordan, looking over Michael Jordan’s shoulder, that… meh, you know what, it’s basketball. It’s what I do. These are my guys.
I’ve sort of divorced myself from that.
This Web Extra was inspired by our May/June 2020 issue.