By Ed Coghlan
It was a winter’s evening in 1992, the only time I met Glenn “Doc” Rivers. He was a player then for the Los Angeles Clippers.
My two youngest daughters, Mary Clare and Tootsa, were players on an L.A. city parks team (I will proudly add they were the only girls on the team). They were 8 and 7 years old respectively.
The parks league obtained a group of tickets for a Clippers game at the woeful L.A. Sports Arena. I agreed to go with the girls and their teammates.
Now remember, this is 22 years ago. The Clippers were horrible and had to give tickets away just to get people to come.
Before the game, as part of the promotion, Rivers came up and talked to the young players from the league. I knew of him from college. I loved Marquette (thank you Al McGuire) and Rivers had been a very good player there.
I was totally unprepared for “Doc” Rivers, the man.
This NBA athlete did what few of them did then and fewer of them do know. He trudged up into the nosebleed section of a really second-rate sports facility and he talked to the children.
He talked about the importance of an education.
He talked about having commitment and respecting your teammates.
He talked about respecting yourself.
The children loved him because, as only children can figure out, they knew he was a genuine article.
Rivers has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers with the J. Walter Kennedy Basketball Citizen Award and is a member of the All-Star Advisory Council for the Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA youth basketball support programs.
22 years later, the world is finding out what those children knew.
Doc Rivers is a man–a man the NBA paid attention to when he was a player.
But he’s no longer just the league’s pediatrician, inspiring young people to do better.
He is now the league’s leading oncologist –he has to help remove a cancer. And he seems to be doing just that.
That “cancer”, of course, is serial racist Donald Sterling, the man (and we used the term loosely) who owns the Los Angeles Clippers–the team that Rivers now coaches.
Sterling may own the Clippers, but he’s never owned Doc Rivers.
Rivers is obviously a very intelligent man. Forget for a minute how good a coach he is – he’s one of only four active coaches to win an NBA title. And since 2007 he has the third highest winning percentage among current coaches.
He’s using that intelligence to corner Sterling, like the rat he is.
After the TMZ story broke and Sterling was heard demeaning people of color, Rivers did what leaders do. He protected his troops – in this case, the Clippers players.
Then once he figured out that the players were safe (because people in L.A. like this team despite their owner), he began to corner the rat.
Asked if he was going to continue coaching the Clippers next year, he said, “Don’t know yet. And I’m just gong to leave it at that.”
Then a day later, he said that he was sure the voice on the TMZ tape was Sterling’s.
“This is a distraction. I’m going to focus on my guys. I came here for them. They came here for each other. Our goals have not changed,” Rivers said.
“Like one of the players said today, ‘When I was a little kid and I had a goal to win a championship, it was to do that. It wasn’t to win a world championship for someone.’”
If you are in the public perception business–and I am–then you know what Doc Rivers has done.
He has isolated Donald Sterling.
He’s made it easier for the NBA to be really punitive and he’s made it more difficult for Sterling to do what you know he wants to do–which is to wait for this to blow over and hold onto to this team that has become very valuable.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA owners have a move to make. They have to pry the Clippers ownership from Donald Sterling’s aging fingers and sell it to someone who represents the 21st century (or even the 20th)
Thanks to Doc Rivers, the wheels have been greased.
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