Erik Spoelstra stressing grace, empathy as Heat head to D.C. amid pandemic and in aftermath of Capitol invasion

Khobi Price, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The Miami Heat’s main source of anxiety heading into their four-game road trip starting Saturday may have little to do with the outcomes of the ensuing games.

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump supporters invading the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in D.C. that led to five people dying and the Heat set to play the Washington Wizards on Saturday, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra stressed the importance of compassion during the disheartening and adverse times.

“There’s just an incredible amount of disappointment, discouragement, frustration and anger from our group — as you can imagine there would be,” Spoelstra said Friday ahead of Saturday’s matchup. “I don’t think anyone really understands how that was possible.”

Spoelstra’s comments came after Bam Adebayo spoke about the difficulties he faces as a Black man following Wednesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics,

“Imagine if a mob of Black people wanted to go in the [Capitol]. Imagine what’d happen. It’d be tear gas. It’d be rubber bullets. It’d be the whole nine yards,” the fourth-year big man said, adding, “being an African-American man, you can tell there’s two Americas we’re living in. They don’t want us to be equal.”

There was also the decision by prosecutors in Kenosha, Wisc., on Tuesday to not file charges against the police officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake at the forefront of players’ minds throughout the week.

Blake — a 29-year-old Black man — was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha police officer in August.

Multiple sports leagues around the country, including the NBA, paused play for multiple days in protest of the shooting over the summer.

“The clear picture of how it paints two worlds. It’s pretty clear to everybody,” Spoelstra continued. “I just marvel at our guys in how much they’ve been able to emotionally compartmentalize all of the discouragement, frustration and feeling of how things are unjust racially, dealing with everything we’re dealing with COVID. Not just the protocols, but the unknown. Just how different things are. And then be asked to perform and do it at a high level.

“These are unique times right now. They’re not easy for anybody in this profession. We’re not happy about where we are as a team, but I think it’s important emotionally, mentally and spiritually that we show each other some grace, understanding and empathy right now.”

Causing more anxiety is all of this happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, with two of the Heat’s next three opponents dealing with coronavirus-related issues.

ESPN reported Thursday evening that Philadelphia 76ers guard Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday evening, which led to the Sixers staying overnight in New York following its game against the Brooklyn Nets with contact tracing and COVID-19 testing being conducted early Friday.

The Boston Globe reported that Boston Celtics center Robert Williams tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to big men Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams being out due to contact tracing under the league’s health and safety protocols.

The Heat play the Celtics on Sunday in Boston after matching up with them earlier in the week in Maimi. They’ll end their road trip when they play the 76ers on Tuesday and Thursday in Philadelphia.

While there haven’t been any reported COVID-19-related issues with the Wizards, Washington played road games against the 76ers and Celtics on Wednesday and Friday.

Saturday is the Wizards’ first home game since the attacks at the U.S. Capitol.

“From my perspective as a head coach, it’d be perfectly normal to have some anxiety,” Spoelstra said. “Guys are managing a lot right now. It is important to have some grace towards each other. Whatever you’re feeling or having emotions about, that’s okay. That’s to be expected. There’s a lot of unknown. We all want to make it work and we all want to be as disciplined as we can to make sure we do our part to keep this working, but that doesn’t mean we’re impervious to the emotions of it.”

For Heat players, they’re looking at the upcoming road trip as an opportunity to turn the season around after a 3-4 start while acknowledging the challenges they face in staying focused.

“It’s tough to be locked in with all this craziness going on around outside basketball, with COVID, with the demonstrations, with everything, but we’re all professionals, so we need to deal with it and do our jobs,” Goran Dragic said

Added Tyler Herro: “We just feel like now is a time when we can come together and connect more than we ever have as a team, just because we feel like if we can connect, we’ll be role models to the rest of the city of Miami and just really everybody. If we can connect on the road in the city and in the games — and just being as one — I think that’ll help.”