The Miami Heat were on the team bus Thursday headed to practice when coach Erik Spoelstra learned that Goran Dragic is an All-Star for the first time in his 10-year career.
Spoelstra waited to inform his point guard, and the rest of his team, wanting to do it just before they hit the court for practice at Temple University in Philadelphia.
The reaction was one of shock and joy.
“You could see the shock on his face,” Spoelstra said about Dragic. “It’s cool to see a group enjoy someone else’s success. They’re a part of it and Goran even thanked everybody for that. This group is great like that. They can find joy when somebody else is playing well and accomplishing something.”
“It was really nice,” Dragic said about the way he was informed. He then credited his teammates for his highest individual accolade in his NBA career. “All the credit goes to them too because without them this would not be possible. They put me in the right spots so I can give my best and I’m really grateful and thankful for that.”
The All-Star Game is Feb. 18 in Los Angeles. The Heat are also expected to be represented in the 3-point contest on Feb. 17, as Wayne Ellington will reportedly participate in the shooting competition.
“I’m going to send Goran a gift, flowers,” Spoelstra said. “I’m thrilled that he’s going out there to L.A. Invite his family, he’ll have a great weekend. I’m going to watch that 3-point contest, I’ll tell you that much. I cannot guarantee Goran I’ll watch that game.”
Dragic was picked by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to replace Cleveland’s Kevin Love, who suffered a broken hand on Monday. Dragic is Miami’s first All-Star in two years and assures the team that currently holds the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference will not be shut out of the game.
“Hopefully this shows that it’s a byproduct for winning and being recognized for winning,” Spoelstra said. “Goran we feel is an All-Star. We’re just thrilled that he got recognized by the other coaches and he’s going.”
Dragic, 31, is averaging 17.0 points, 4.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds. He has led the team in assists 21 times and in scoring 18 times, both team-highs and he has been the Eastern Conference Player of the Week twice this season, one of only four players in the league to earn the award multiple times this season. Still, he had accepted he was not going to be in the game and was planning a family getaway to a tropical island.
“I think L.A. is going to be fine,” he said.
Dragic is the first player from Slovenia to named an All-Star and the honor comes about four months after Dragic led his national team to a stunning EuroBasket championship last summer. He was named MVP of the tournament.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Coming from (a country of) two million people and we have like eight or nine NBA players and I’m the first Slovenian to be on the All-Star team. That’s something huge for me personally and for my country, too.”
Dragic was passed over twice after the starters were revealed, once when the coaches selected the seven reserves from each conference and again this week when Detroit’s Andre Drummond was picked as the replacement for Washington’s John Wall, who underwent knee surgery Wednesday.
The league said Dragic received the most voting points from NBA head coaches among Eastern Conference players who were not selected as reserves or already named as an injury replacement.
Heat center Hassan Whiteside said Dragic being named an All-Star is “great for the organization.
“They really pulled for him,” he said. “Micky really pulled for him, coach Spo really pulled for him and he made it. So congrats.”
Whiteside was asked if he is frustrated his injuries hurt his All-Star chances.
“It’s tough,” he said. “But what can you do? I’m going to enjoy the rest, though.”
Spoelstra believes Whiteside is close to cracking that All-Star barrier.
“Hopefully one of these days we’ll get Hassan in there, too.” he said. “Hassan is very close as well. I would say if he didn’t miss those games from injury I think the way he started the season I think he would have been worthy of an All-Star bid. He just has to stay patient. Everybody’s journey is different. But I’ll tell you what, he’s getting closer and we’ll get him there one of these days.”
Until today, the Heat were the only team among the top 10 in the East without an All-Star.
Dragic received plenty support on social media, specifically from Heat owner Micky Arison and his former teammate in Miami, Dwyane Wade.
Arison was one of the first to congratulate Dragic on social media.
Wade also chimed in.
Dragic will join Team LeBron in the first year of the new format in which Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry – the two leading vote getters – drafted the teams playground style.
Team LeBron includes James, Golden State’s Kevin Durant, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Dragic and Drummond.
George, Dragic and Drummond are injury replacements for DeMarcus Cousins, Love and Wall.
Dragic will be joined at All-Star Weekend by Heat guard Wayne Ellington, who will participate in the 3-point shooting.
Miami (29-22) continues its four-game road trip Friday in Philadelphia (24-24).