Die-hard sports fans will stop at nothing to get their favorite player’s autograph. But when the time comes, some find it difficult to seize the opportunity. Hearts beat wildly, palms get sweaty and tongues get tied.
No one knows that better than Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra. He says he’s been James’ biggest fan since the 6’8′′ superstar joined the league in 2003. “I was first in line to buy his Cavaliers jersey,” Spoelstra said. “I still wear it around the house.”
Needless to say, Spoelstra was thrilled when James signed with the Heat in 2010. “Now here was my chance,” Spoelstra said. But for three long years, Spoelstra could not find the courage to ask his hero for an autograph.
“He’s very intimidating to say the least,” Spoelstra said. “I kept telling myself, ‘Today’s the day, Erik. Today’s the day you look him right in the eye and ask him to sign.’ But I always chickened out.”
As the clock wound down on the Heat’s title hopes Sunday night, Spoelstra became determined to salvage something from the season. When James began weeping on the bench, Spoelstra knew his hero’s guard was finally down.
“Nothing cheers him up faster than flattery,” Spoelstra said. “So I pulled out the Lebron snapshot I’ve kept at the back of my clipboard for more than three years and handed it to him.”
Sniffling, Lebron signed the picture. “‘To my friend Erik,’” Spoelstra said, biting his lip. “I cried that night, too. Tears of joy.” Spoelstra says James’ autograph is the crown jewel of his extensive collection.
“I got half the team to sign all at once two seasons ago,” Spoelstra said. “We were killing the Grizzlies, so I figured I’d just call a quick timeout and make my move.”
However, Spoelstra knows the risks of asking for autographs during the heat of battle. In a May 2012 game against the Indiana Pacers, Spoelstra saw an opportunity to get Dwyane Wade’s autograph. He took it, but the plan backfired.
“Dwyane had just hit a key three-pointer, and I could see he was in good spirits when he came to the huddle,” Spoelstra said. “So I went in for the kill. Let’s just say he wasn’t happy with the timing. I think he overreacted a little bit, but I learned my lesson.”
Spoelstra says good autograph hunters understand the importance of building relationships before popping the question.
“You wouldn’t ask a woman to marry you on the first date would you?” Spoelstra said. “It’s the same with players. You get to know them. You give them a pat on the ass here and there. Then, when it feels right, you go for it.” With James’ autograph already framed in his living room, Spoelstra has dubbed the season a personal success, regardless of wins and losses.
“So we didn’t win the championship,” Spoelstra said. “But this is really the cherry on top for me.” Spoelstra was euphoric Sunday night after finally acquiring what he’d been after for so long.
“I slipped my lucky Sharpie into my jacket and just glided into the locker room,” Spoelstra said. “Mission accomplished, baby.”