MIAMI (AP) — With a bit of his mother’s native language thrown in at the end, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra released a public service announcement on Wednesday asking people to give to UNICEF and help with typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines.
Spoelstra’s mother is from the Philippines, which was devastated last Friday when Typhoon Haiyan struck — killing thousands, displacing hundreds of thousands and leaving enormous numbers of Filipinos homeless, hungry and thirsty. Spoelstra filmed the spot on Monday, and production was turned around in less than 48 hours.
“Just helping right now has its own challenges,” Spoelstra said Wednesday night. “There’s a long road ahead. … I feel a responsibility to help make people aware of how catastrophic this storm was to Filipinos in that region, but more importantly how people can assist with the relief. People want to help. They just want to know how. Donations for clean water, food and medical supplies is how people can help the most right now.”
Spoelstra has been to the Philippines multiple times in recent years, though those trips did not include any visits to the area that was hit hardest by the typhoon. Most of Spoelstra’s family and friends who live in the Philippines are either in or near Manila, which was struck by wind and rain but did not endure any significant damage.
Other parts of the country were destroyed, and estimates suggest that up to 4 million children could be affected.
“Devastation caused by the recent typhoon in the Philippines has been catastrophic and millions of children have been impacted,” Spoelstra said in the PSA, which was taped as he stood on the court where the Heat play home games.
The NBA, the NBA Players Association and the Heat are among the groups who have already announced donations to relief efforts. The Heat combined with Carnival Corporation to pledge at least $1 million to the effort; the team is owned by Micky Arison, who also chairs Carnival’s board.
In addition, the Heat held a moment of silence for those lost and affected by the storm before their game Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“South Floridians, we can relate to storms where you just brace and hold your breath and even when you’re holding your breath you know the worst is coming,” Spoelstra said. “That’s how it felt with this. My family is fine. But some regions have just been slammed. They’re going to need a lot of help. As soon as we started getting more updates, it was a no-brainer to get involved with UNICEF and the NBA. Micky, the Heat have been phenomenal.”
Spoelstra has often spoken of the pride he takes in his Filipino-American heritage, and when he was approached to help with relief efforts, he did not hesitate to commit.
He likened the situation in the Philippines to what Haiti faced after devastating earthquakes. The Heat have continued playing a role in helping Haitians rebuild their lives after that disaster, and Spoelstra said lessons he learned from a trip to Port-au-Prince months after the quakes in 2010 are helping him shape his response to the typhoon.
“When we were in Haiti they frankly just told us that the most we can do is raise awareness and let people know how they can help and let people know there’s still a long road ahead,” Spoelstra said. “From that experience, I’ve learned my role in this can be with awareness. We still have a job to do and life to do here in South Florida, but that doesn’t preclude me from making any effort I can to make people aware from it.”
Spoelstra’s success as coach of the Heat has been huge news in the Philippines. Reporters from that country have traveled to cover the last three NBA Finals largely because of Spoelstra’s involvement, and when he returned to the Philippines as part of a sports envoy tour arranged by the NBA and the U.S. State Department in 2009 — his first trip there in 35 years — massive crowds awaited him at every stop.
Other than fans from the U.S. and China, the NBA has said that Filipinos are most active on the league’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“The NBA Family is teaming up with UNICEF to bring life-saving clean water, food, medicine and shelter that are urgently needed,” Spoelstra said in the PSA. “Join our team.”
He ends the spot by saying “Thank you” and “Maraming salamat po” — the Filipino phrase for “Thank you very much.”
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