Yoshida had experience of lifetime working with Spurs

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

As the final buzzer sounded and the Miami Heat captured their second consecutive NBA championship in the decisive Game 7 last week, strength and conditioning coach Nobuhisa Yoshida was no different from the Spurs players — he was completely devastated.

San Antonio allowed the LeBron James-led team to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the series by dropping the final two games and missed a chance to claim its fifth overall title.

“It was surreal,” Yoshida, 34, said in a recent telephone interview from San Antonio. “The long season ended and the championship slid out of our hands. . . . We came so close to it.”

As many observers pointed out afterward, Yoshida referred to a 103-100 overtime loss in Game 6 as a major blow for the Texas club because with one more free throw or one more rebound the Spurs could have claimed the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Yoshida, who worked for the team in the past two seasons, didn’t hide his chagrin at having come up short in his attempt to become the first Japanese-born person to earn an NBA championship ring along with another, Daisuke Yamaguchi, who’s an athletic trainer on the team.

Yoshida, a native of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, experienced strong disappointment because he had grown attached to the players all season.

“Because I know each and every player had carried so much responsibility on his back and we failed to seize the championships, it was just so regrettable,” said Yoshida, who had previously served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Florida, where he earned his master of science in applied physiology and kinesiology.

Nevertheless, it was an incredible run for Yoshida and the Spurs, who had the league’s third-best regular-season record (58-24).

Yoshida said that the Spurs, who had nine foreign-born players on their 2012-13 roster, weren’t necessarily superior in terms of athleticism, but their team-first, ego-free game under head coach Gregg Popovich enabled them to accomplish what they did.

Maybe the feat wouldn’t have been possible without the support staff. The strength and conditioning tandem of director Matt Herring and his assistant, Yoshida, were so relevant for the Spurs, whose core players, such as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, needed extensive care and precautionary measures to maintain their physical condition throughout the long season.

The Spurs seemed to run out of gas before the 2012 NBA Finals, when they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. But this year it was a different story.

Yoshida said that he received complimentary words from outside the club, including staff members from other strength and conditioning and medical teams, saying he should be credited for part of the Spurs’ success.

And Herring, who worked with Yoshida at Florida and brought him to San Antonio during the 2011-12 season, appreciated the chance to reunited with his right-hand man in the Lone Star State.

Herring told The Japan Times via email earlier in the season that he quickly realized he and Yoshida would complement each other’s skills and abilities.

“He was, and still is, my first resource when I have questions or doubts about training methods,” wrote Herring, who joined the Spurs in 2011. “He knew me and my philosophy and I needed someone to help me transition into the NBA.

“Although he has a quiet personality, he has a gift for coaching and interacting with athletes. These two qualities make Nobu a very good coach and colleague.”

Yoshida’s contract was up at the end of the season. He said that he hopes for another opportunity to remain in the U.S. but doesn’t rule out the possibility of coming back to his native Japan.

But if he stays in the U.S., that could be because of the chip on his shoulder — not being able to be a part of a championship team.

“I really wanted to leave the arena to be part of the champions,” said Yoshida, a former JBL player. “After the seventh game, as our bus was leaving from the arena, there were so many Miami fans lined up and some of them even putting their middle fingers up. . .

“I definitely had great experiences, but at the same time it was such indescribable humiliation.”

One journey may have come to an end for him, but it is clear that Yoshida is already looking forward to the next one.