Tonight on ‘Masters of the Game’: Doc Rivers
OPINION: The NBA championship-winning coach talks about the best and worst times of his coaching career on TheGrio TV's show "Masters of the Game."
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Update, May 17, 2023: On Tuesday, the Philadelphia 76ers fired Doc Rivers after three seasons despite the fact that he posted a 154-82 regular season record and led the team to the Eastern Conference semifinals in all three years. In October 2022, Rivers sat down with Touré for theGrio’s series “Masters of the Game” where NBA All-Star and 2000 NBA coach of the year discussed what it takes to be a top coach in the league and how being a player influenced his coaching. Download theGrio app to watch the complete episode.
Doc Rivers is one of the most successful and fascinating coaches in the NBA, and that’s why I was excited to interview him for “Masters of the Game.” “Masters” is all about brilliant, successful Black people talking about their experiences and dispensing their wisdom so the rest of us can grow from their knowledge. Rivers was a great NBA player who has become an elite coach. Anyone who aspires to be a good coach, a good player or to be better at dealing with difficult, sensitive life situations will learn a lot from this conversation. It was an honor to sit with Rivers and talk about his journey. The episode premieres Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on TheGrio TV.
Rivers is an NBA champion, and his stories about leading the Celtics to a championship in 2008 are inspiring. The key to that year, he says, was teaching his guys about a deeply African sense of togetherness and unity. He said it can be harder than you’d think to get an entire NBA team to be on the same page and to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good, but once he taught his guys to buy into the power of unity, they were able to gel into an elite team. It’s a story that takes you deep into the psychology of being a coach.
Of course, we all learn more from struggle than from success and Rivers has been in the middle of some very complex situations that were about a lot more than basketball. In 2014, he was the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers when a tape of the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling was leaked, revealing Sterling saying all sorts of horribly racist things. How do you lead a team through something like that? Rivers says he went into the locker room and let the guys know that he’s a Black man from Chicago, and by that he meant he was on their side. He said he told the guys they could handle this moment in whatever way they wanted and he would be behind them. He also talked about how close they came to boycotting the game.
He was also the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers when Ben Simmons started to let the world know that he had mental health issues, which would keep him from playing for an entire season. Rivers talks about how he handled that as well as two other situations that were even more complex for him. In 2015, his son Austin was traded to the Clippers when he was still the coach. He said that was a really difficult situation — the locker room can get a bit crazy when the coach’s son is on the team. Also, in Philadelphia, Rivers coached his son-in-law, Seth Curry. He said that wasn’t as complicated as coaching his son, but in 2022, Curry was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, and that led to some issues because it meant that his daughter had to upend her life and move to a new city. He talked about how challenging that moment was.
Rivers is a teacher and a leader who’s had a long career, so I knew he would be a great interview, and he does not disappoint. Every episode of “Masters of the Game” is built to give us a look at a well-lived life so we can learn from someone’s journey. Rivers is a great person to learn from.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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