ATLANTA -- When Erik Spoelstra was chosen by the Miami Heat to succeed Pat Riley in 2008, he made history as the first Asian-American coach in the four major North American sports leagues.
Although he has seen only highlights of Jeremy Lin since the New York Knicks point guard took the league by storm over the past week, Spoelstra expressed a measure of pride on Sunday over what Lin has accomplished as the first Asian-American to start an NBA game since the league began keeping records of starting lineups decades ago.
"Also being an Asian-American, it's great to see him break some barriers," said Spoelstra, who has described himself as half Filipino. "As a fan of the game, I root for him. It's a great sports story, in general."
Since entering the Knicks' starting lineup on February 4, Lin has averaged 26.8 points and eight assists on a true shooting percentage of 58 percent. The 13-15 Knicks have won all five games Lin has started.
Heat forward LeBron James has been following the Lin-sanity from afar, and has been duly impressed with the adversity Lin has overcome.
"He's playing and they're winning," James said. "I've heard about how he's staying with a friend, and about his getting cut and being a week away from not knowing if he was going to stick with the team, about how (the Knicks) might release him to sign Mike James.
"Then he gets the start against New Jersey and the rest is history. You always want someone to succeed when his back is against the wall. Now his chest is against the wall and he'’s seeing everything coming at him from every angle."
James wishes Lin well -- that is until the Heat faces the Knicks on February 23 in Miami.
"Best of luck to him," James said. "I don't want him to be good when (the Knicks) are playing us, but other than that, good for him.”
Lin first piqued Spoelstra's interest during 2010 NBA Summer League. Playing with the Dallas Mavericks' squad, Lin electrified in the crowd in Las Vegas by matching No. 1 draft pick John Wall possession for possession.
"Everybody was talking about it out there, but nobody knew who he was," Spoelstra said. "The gym was abuzz. It's interesting looking back on it and to hear a similar buzz now. We almost had a precursor to it two summers ago."
Spoelstra was a standout high school point guard growing up in the Portland area. He went on to the University of Portland, where he was a four-year starter. As a youth, Spoelstra had aspirations of suiting up as the first Asian-American player in the NBA for generations, but soon realized he was a long shot to play at the highest professional levels.
"I (had hopes) until I was a junior in high school," said Spoelstra. "Then I realized I better concentrate on getting my college paid for and moving on to a different profession."
Spoelstra keeps in touch with family in the Philippines, who have followed Lin's rise to stardom closely.
"Certainly my cousins have all emailed me, " Spoelstra said. "My friends, in general, have been talking about it, not necessarily from the angle of ethnicity. It's almost the story of Roy Hobbs. It just doesn't happen that someone comes out of nowhere."
While James appreciates Lin's achievement as an underdog, the cultural significance of his ascent doesn't resonate nearly as much as Lin's talents.
"If he can play, then he can play," James said. "That's all it's about. This game doesn't judge race. It judges your ability to play."