The Strength of Doc Rivers
By Gary Norris Gray and Art George
OAKLAND (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM): In June 2013, less than a year ago, Glenn “Doc” Rivers was hired by the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team as coach and senior vice president of basketball operations; a big job, worth $7 million a year, and hard enough just to focus on the hardwood.
This year, in the span of one week, Rivers had to step up beyond his job description and pay scale to mediate, medicate, maintain, and maneuver a Clipper franchise that had become a ghost ship stripped of its owner and sponsors and facing a mutiny by crew and deckhands. Doc Rivers is recognized as more than just a coach.
His skill and composure, amid personal distress and confusion around the Sterling controversy, is reported by Forbes magazine to have been recognized by The National Basketball Association (NBA) by including Rivers on a search committee to find new interim executive management for the team’s displaced owner and (CEO) Chief Executive Officer.
THE WILL TO CONTINUE
In the week after the disclosure on Friday, April 25, 2014, of racist statements by team owner Donald Sterling, the Clippers team on Sunday, April 27 considered a boycott of their playoff against Golden State, dropping their warm-ups on center court and turning jerseys inside out in disgust and protest; before losing by 21 points.
Rivers himself considered whether he had the will to coach under Sterling’s ownership, and then how to motivate the players who were similarly conflicted. The Monday after that game, Rivers canceled practice and spoke to front office staff to prepare a way to move forward. He refused to speak with Sterling and anchored a national conference call on the issues presented.
Sterling was punished as owner and banished from the game by Commissioner, Adam Silver on Tuesday, April 29. The Clippers came back with a win that night, but lost again on Thursday, May 1, requiring a Game 7 final, prevailing against the Warriors on Saturday, May 3.
But before Rivers could prepare for that final game, he was asked by team executives to meet Friday morning May 2 with Clippers rank and file ticket-sellers, group sales, marketing staff, sponsorship, human resources, and fan relations departments.
Those persons, working out of the team’s downtown Los Angeles offices, had felt isolated and abandoned as the focus remained on ownership, players, national media, and the league. The “healing” that was perceived to have begun with Sterling’s removal did not address the continuing pain of the business staff.
STORMS BEHIND STORMS
These employees were reported as getting ripped over the phone by angry fans, season-ticket holders, and sponsors. White employees were called “racists” while minorities were called “sellouts.” Throughout, while the front office appeared to move ahead, the regular workers felt they had no guidance or support from a team now without an owner, and they were contemplating a revolt of their own.
So Rivers stepped into yet another firestorm. Rivers was reported not to have been prepared from what he would hear and see from the employees, some of whom were in tears before he spoke.
As much as Rivers had been in the middle of the controversy, he was reported as having been unaware of the burden on the Clippers day-to-day staff. The workers in their own way were even more on the front line as the players but had not received a chance to express their beliefs and how disappointed they were by the Sterling situation and their inclusion in the controversy just by their jobs.
Rivers was modest about his approach to the staff, reportedly having said, “Listen, I’m not equipped … I just told them to hang in there.” “The players have gotten a lot of attention and the players have had a chance to express their beliefs and how disappointed they were with this whole situation, but the people on the front line, they really haven’t had that opportunity.
When I looked at them, there was Black, Latino, white, Asian, women, and men — there were so many different groups and they all have been affected by this,” Rivers said. “Before Game Seven you’re thinking I should be up in the office but what I did today for me was far more important than this stuff because they need it. They really do. They need it more than even our players right now. They really need somebody. They’re just as important to me and our players. They need the same support. What I witnessed today, you realize this thing has touched a lot of people. The people that didn’t do anything are being harmed by this. “
His message to the workers was similar to what he had told the front office staff earlier in the week. “You know, they didn’t sign on for all this but they are part of this. And they’re upset at this but they’re going to hang in there. And so are we.” Rivers walked through the Sterling controversy step by step. “What’s right or wrong, I swear, I wish I knew the answers,” Rivers said of the controversy first developed. “I wish I could help people more in this in trying to decide what the right thing is. It is funny because I was sitting there last night thinking, ‘I don’t know the answer.’ I am just being honest with you.”
His honesty, and humanity, and effort in a difficult week proved his strength. Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers move on to the second round with a new determination and a new focus with the motto “WE ARE ONE.”