Doc Rivers has been the voice and pulse of the Clippers throughout this tumultuous week. He has at times kept his focus both on the court as the coach and on the organization for which he runs basketball operations. Rivers has been the leader for the organization. The public face speaking about the Donald Sterling issue that just will not go away and representing his team.
Somehow, Los Angeles managed to win its first round series against Golden State in seven games with that fantastic game Saturday night.
It has been a long, long week for Rivers, as he tells Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, but Rivers has done a good job allowing his team to focus on actually playing rather than off-the-court distractions. Rivers remains the perfect man for the job for the Clippers, combining his masterful motivational tactics with a good pulse for his team and Xs and Os acumen.
It is hard to believe he was able to keep everything straight with the firestorm surrounding the Clippers this past week.
For Rivers, that moment didn’t arrive. He tasked himself with becoming the team’s spokesperson during the crisis, answering every media question so his players could stay quiet. Instead of preparing for the Warriors, much of Rivers’ days were spent talking with Silver, National Basketball Players Association liaison Kevin Johnson and even Sterling’s wife, Shelly. On Friday, the day before the Clippers were to play a game that could end their season, Rivers went downtown for an emotional meeting with the franchise’s staff.
Rivers “of all people, probably went through the most,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “He really had to deal with it the first couple of days. We weren’t really. We as a team decided not to speak on it. He was the guy that everyone was looking to and he’s the leader of our team. Emotionally, I can’t imagine what he was going through.”
That is a lot for one man to handle all while trying to do his job in one of the most high pressure times of the year with a team that has championship expectations.
Rivers though remained the man for the job. If any coach in the league could have handled this controversy better, I cannot think of him. This was Doc Rivers’ brilliant coaching and leading at its finest. That is something we already saw in Boston with how he turned the Celtics around once they delivered him talent. We also saw it in his rookie year as a coach when he turned a Magic team that was expected to finish with the worst record in the league into a 41-41 squad that missed the Playoffs by one game.
His brilliance in knowing exactly what his players need can be shown from a story from that season as he told Sam Amick of USA TODAY:
It was late 1999, the start of Rivers’ first season as coach of the Orlando Magic, and he saw a situation in the locker room that he felt needed to be addressed. As his players took part in the pre-game prayer that was part of their routine — with veteran point guard Darrell Armstrong handling the message like always, future New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams serving as unofficial co-messenger and the entire team standing in a circle — Rivers noticed something he didn’t like.
“I looked up in one of the prayers, and Tariq (Abdul-Wahad) had his arms folded, and you could see that he was really uncomfortable with it,” Rivers, whose team hosts the Golden State Warriors tonight in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs, told USA TODAY Sports recently. “So the next game, we were standing up in a circle, and I said, ‘Hey guys, we’re no longer praying,’ and I remember Darrell and Monty looking at me, like ‘What’s going on?’”
As Amick relates, what Rivers did next was gather his team and tell them the team prayers would stop. He did not single out Tariq Abdul-Wahad in front of the group but gave them a quiet moment to collect their thoughts before the game. He spoke individually with team leaders afterward — including Armstrong — and they agreed that this was best for the team. They had not even thought their religion, which unifies them with their teammates, would alienate others.
Another Rivers story also shows why Rivers was the man to face down this challenge with grace and dignity.
Rivers is in an interracial marriage. That is no big deal now, but in the 1980s at Marquette University, it was something that haunted and followed him. He said it was one reason why he left after his junior year as he and his wife faced racial epithets and damage to their property because of their relationship.
After a stellar 13-year playing career, Doc and Kris and their four children were living in the San Antonio area when misfortune — perhaps racial hatred — struck them two years before he accepted the Magic job. Their home was suspiciously burned to the ground by a fire started in a clothes closet.
Rivers was away at a golf tournament, and Kris and the kids were in Wisconsin visiting her parents at the time. Ginger, one of the family’s dogs, was killed. Kris had given her to Doc as a gift. All of the Rivers’ family pictures and albums, and many of Doc’s career keepsakes, were lost.
This is a man that has not only been a great motivator and understands how to unite a team toward a common goal. This is a man who has stared down hate, been scarred by it and come through with his chest up and his head high.
This is a coach who can guide his team through the pitfalls of the Playoffs and the pitfalls of hatred while still performing a job.
There is probably not a single person who is not thankful Doc Rivers is now the face of the Clippers organization in every way. He is the perfect man for this job.