As a player, Doc Rivers was a hard-nosed All-Star point guard who had consecutive 700+ assists seasons and 81 playoff games to his credit. His coaching career has been even more successful, having won an NBA championship and leading his troops in Boston and Los Angeles to five seasons of 50+ wins in seven seasons, including back-to-back 60-win seasons from 2007 to 2009. He enjoys a reputation as being one of the five best coaches in the league and prides himself on his ability to get along with stars, and maximising their abilities.
More than that however, Rivers is black. This very unsurprising observation is currently playing a huge factor in his yet undetermined future with the Los Angeles Clippers, seeing as Donald Sterling is given the NBA all he’s got in a legal battle to authorise the cancellation of the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer by his wife, Shelly.
Sterling, as one likely recollects, was caught on tape saying a bunch of racist stuff that we need not repeat here. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver laid the smack down on Sterling, banning him from NBA events forever and fining him the maximum penalty allowed under league rules, $2.5 million.
While Rivers let the world know early on that his future with the team was undetermined and that he wanted to focus on his players and the playoffs, there was little doubt as to his feelings regarding the matter. He, like everyone else, wanted Sterling out as owner, otherwise he wouldn’t return. This line of thought was confirmed Tuesday by Richard Parsons, the acting CEO of the Clippers. In court, he was quoted as saying Rivers would not wish return.
“Doc is troubled by this maybe more so than anybody else,” Parsons said about Rivers, who is black. “If Mr. Sterling continues as owner, he does not want to continue as coach.”
The news didn’t hit hard, as this was a somewhat universal acknowledgement of fact prior Parsons’s quote. However, this finally made Rivers’s feelings on the matter official and now puts a lot of pressure on the league in wrapping up the legal procedure and getting Ballmer inserted as acting owner of the Clippers. The NBA doesn’t watch to see Rivers leave one of its biggest markets, nor do they wish for Rivers to personally feel defeated by Sterling’s comments, because, why would they? Rivers would become an unnecessary casualty of cruelty and ignorance, and no one wants to see Sterling have further influence, be that through direct or indirect actions.
Sure, one could make the argument that both players and coaches could have done the research on Sterling and his checkered past before they signed on the dotted line, and you could even argue that Rivers’s threat looks mildly silly when Sterling’s antics have never been able to avoid the public eye. To that point however, it’s easy to forget that Sterling was, prior to the tape recordings, looked at differently. He said weird things and was accused of having a shady business mentality, but somehow he never quite ventured into fully-fledged racist rants, despite carrying several racist elements to his persona for years.
Now he’s out there being pegged as a racist, and rightfully so, with his team perhaps in upcoming disarray. If Rivers leaves, it’ll be impossible for the Clippers to find a coach who can give Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the same level of professionalism and open-mindedness that they got a taste for last season. If Rivers walk, it could be the beginning of Domino puzzles crumbling to the ground one by one, even with the core locked up for years. Players could want out, decline in play intentionally, use whatever player option or ETO at their disposal to get out quicker, etc. Point being: The Clippers could be looking at a situation in which important people attempt to flee, if they somehow don’t come out victorious. And don’t forget about free agency either. Would anyone be remotely interested in signing with the Clippers until Sterling is officially gone?
Whether intentional or not, Rivers is right now leading a charge that effectively could end the Clippers as we know them, if Donald Sterling remains the owner, even if it’s just on paper. After decades of losing, decades of struggling to find a permanent fan base, decades of finding a stable core, the current Clippers have finally found a footing as one of the premier teams in the NBA and rejuvenated Staples Center after the fan-favorites Lakers looks to be pushing to re-set button, and all of it could be washed away in what would appear to be seconds.
Doc’s feelings may be obvious and accurate, but don’t underestimate the severe consequences it could have on the team going forward if he makes good on his word, in which case we could be in for another three decade round of losing.