Doc Rivers was a voice of reason during a bumpy time for the Clippers organization
Being the head coach of the LA Clippers in the first half of the 2010s was no smooth ride. Being an African American head coach of the LA Clippers in the first half of the 2010s made things even more challenging.
That was the plight of Doc Rivers, who coached a team owned by a man who was expressively racist and bigoted. Donald Sterling, who owned the team from 1989 until 2014 when he was pushed out by the league following the release of audiotapes in which he exclaimed racist remarks, was not fun to deal with for Clippers players or coaches, especially those who were African American.
Sterling’s obvious racism was one thing, but there were plenty of microaggressions along the way as well.
When the tapes came out of Sterling’s racist remarks, it would be on Doc Rivers to navigate choppy waters and help guide players that were rightly confused and angry. A responsibility that he surely didn’t ask for, he found his way and persevered regardless.
Doc Rivers speaks about how he reclaimed Clippers locker room
Doc Rivers spoke to Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll on their podcast, Flying Coach, about how he reclaimed an angry locker room following the breaking of the Donald Sterling tapes which would eventually get him banned from the league for life.
“When the Sterling thing came out I remember walking into the room with my players. And they all had their arms folded. And you know how that look is, they don’t — they’re basically saying they don’t want to hear your crap right now. And I couldn’t get through for about five minutes. And then I put my blue pad down — I carry a little pad with me everywhere — I put it down on the table and I said, “OK, My name is Glenn Rivers, I’m from Maywood, and I’m black. And this is my life.”
Rivers went on to say he simply told stories to his players about his life.
“I shared stories and as I started sharing stories, everyone unfolded their arms. Because as a coach sometimes they forget, you know, what you are, they just look at you as a coach.”
Rivers has had an interesting path. Growing up just outside of Chicago, his father was a police officer in a town in which he says a lot of his friends didn’t have two-parent households. In 1997, his house was burned down in a crime that Rivers believes to be racially motivated.
Then, he had to navigate the Sterling controversy. And following that, everything that is currently ongoing following George Floyd’s death and the protests against racism and systemic racial inequality in the United States.
Perhaps Rivers and his handling of the Sterling situation can be a lesson for all NBA coaches as they begin to congregate for the first time with their teams in the coming weeks during uncertain times in the world that spur difficult talking points. Some players don’t even want to play, in part due to everything going on in the world.
Sharing stories leads to a greater understanding of who we are as people. It may not solve everything, but it sure is a start.