Discussing how the L.A. Clippers are handling the unprecedented suspension of the NBA season during the COVID-19 pandemic, Doc Rivers says: “I’ve become the vision of hope–I have to give our guys hope.” It isn’t the first time that unique circumstances have turned Rivers into the Clippers’ seemingly sole beacon of hope.
It probably isn’t an understatement to say that Clippers head coach Doc Rivers saved the franchise during 2014, when former owner Donald Sterling infamously was caught making racist remarks on tape. While the league dealt with Sterling, eventually successfully forcing the team’s sale to Steve Ballmer and banning Sterling from NBA arenas for life, Rivers kept the organization intact. From the release of the tapes in April, during the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, until the team’s sale was finalized in August, Rivers was the Clippers’ rock, uniting the locker room to win a game 7 in the face of unbelievable adversity and guiding the franchise through a uniquely uncertain time.
Sterling’s tapes were, of course, not a one-off slip-up. He built his fortune dishonestly as a landlord, and he was a particularly vile one, paying millions in settlements for racial discrimination over the years. In 2009, he was sued by former Clippers executive Elgin Baylor, who alleged that Sterling had said he wanted a roster of “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.”
So while it’s never surprising to hear about racist remarks and actions from Sterling, I had never heard this story: just days after the Clippers traded a first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics in order to hire Doc Rivers in summer 2013, Sterling attempted to nix the team’s sign-and-trade deal for J.J. Redick. Rivers told TNT’s Ernie Johnson that longtime Clippers executive Andy Roeser called Rivers and said “The deal’s off . . . Donald doesn’t like white players.” Rivers had a fierce argument with Sterling and threatened to quit if the deal did not go through, and hour later heard from Roeser that Sterling had changed his mind.
Redick, of course, would go on to be the Clippers’ starting shooting guard for four seasons, making over 1,500 threes and securing the franchise’s best three-point percentage of all time (44%). Redick’s 201 made three-pointers in 2016-17 is the most made by a player in a season in team history, with his 2015 and 2016 campaigns tied for second-most at 200 apiece. His 2015-16 season leads the franchise history in single-season three-point percentage, as he made 47.5% of his shots from deep.
Reflecting on Sterling’s attempted veto of the Redick sign-and-trade as a warning of what was to come, Doc expressed feeling after the call how many Clippers players, coaches, and staff felt working for Sterling over the decades: “that moment, I knew we were in trouble–I knew I was in trouble.”
For more of Doc’s interview on TNT with Ernie Johnson, check out the video on NBA.com.