Erik Spoelstra goes back to school

MIAMI -- Erik Spoelstra went to a social media class, scribbled his signature on the back of a few shirts, shook outstretched hands and happily posed for photographs.

The schedule says Spoelstra should have been leading the Miami Heat against the Orlando Magic on Thursday night.

Instead, he spent the day at middle school, trying to glean something positive from just another day in the ongoing NBA lockout. The Heat coach shadowed a principal and sat in on classes, part of a daylong series of events the team put together at a school about 15 miles from the arena where Spoelstra should have been working.

"I miss it. We all miss it," Spoelstra said. "But it's fun to be out here and see all the kids excited about this program that we feel so strongly about."

NBA teams have tried plenty of community outreach events during the lockout in an effort to stay connected with at least some segment of the fan base, and the Heat have other initiatives planned as well, assuming the lockout drags on for a while longer. Thursday was the 126th day of the lockout, and the NBA has already canceled all games through the end of November.

Whenever it ends, Spoelstra will likely be ready to get to work fast. He and his staff took some vacation time after Miami's loss to Dallas in the NBA finals, but since August the group has been studying film of both the Heat and other clubs, along with getting on the road to see how a handful of coaches -- some at the college level, sometimes even from other sports -- organize their various programs.

"We've had a lot of time to do that this summer," Spoelstra said. "Try to get better and stay active, keep engaged and do what we can to not only improve as coaches -- you don't get this opportunity very often to study other philosophies -- but also find ways to improve on what we did last year."

Heat assistant coaches and staff spent time on the school's outdoor courts Thursday running kids through drills. Inside, students got a chance to record radio and TV interviews and read off teleprompters, write articles and press releases, get conditioning tips from the team trainers, maintain a website, paint a mural on the school wall, even study moves the team's dancers use during routines.

"Kids start to think about cool jobs and initially ... the cool job being the star player in the commercial, a visible job," Spoelstra said. "But really, there's so many opportunities that are cool to young students and some of the things they learned today about social media, about music, about (public relations) ... some of them will probably be standing there like you guys, holding a camera or asking questions."

The Heat sent their broadcasters, some executives, in-game staff and other employees to the school to talk to kids about various careers in sports. Players were noticeably absent, of course. Because of the lockout, the Heat cannot have any unapproved communication or interaction with players, or even speak about them publicly.

So when asked about a comment Dwyane Wade made this week on the SiriusXM radio show hosted by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, where the 2006 NBA finals MVP revealed that he believed the Heat failed to win the 2011 title because they were playing to spite their naysayers, Spoelstra could not respond in any way.

Asked a different way, without mention of Wade, Spoelstra could answer.

"We got better every single month and not every team can say that," Spoelstra said. "We came together with nine new players with a big goal, but we also wanted to make sure that we're progressing and working to get better. I think that'll help us this season, the fact that we spent almost nine months together on that journey and the journey didn't end. It's just beginning."

He also delivered a simple message to fans anxious for the lockout to end.

"Be patient. We're close," Spoelstra said. "We all miss it, but we'll all be back at this soon. And our fans mean the world to us. That's why we're trying to get out in the community as much as possible, to connect. It's not the same as playing, but our fans are our lifeline. They fuel us, the players and the staff. We'll be back at it."