Wiedmer: Is Doc Rivers headed for bigger things?

Wiedmer: Is Doc Rivers headed for bigger things?

May 5th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Whenever these amazing NBA playoffs finally end, Los Angeles Clippers coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers deserves to be named MVP -- Most Valuable Person.

Doesn't matter if the Clips' surreal season concludes against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semis that begin tonight, a round later in the conference championship round, or in the Finals as either a winner or a loser. That's just basketball, though Rivers long ago proved his skill and worth in that arena.

No, Rivers deserves a far bigger honor, one reserved for those who make a positive difference in society by both their actions and their words. Faced with one of the worst sports situations imaginable thanks to the Clippers' doddering old racist adulterer fool of an owner, the former Atlanta Hawk point guard somehow kept his head while all those around him were losing theirs in one way or another.

Moreover, he may have been the only black man on the planet who pulled punches regarding Donald Sterling's racist remarks concerning his mistress's choice of friends.

Said Rivers of Sterling in the middle of one of the most historic weeks in NBA history: "You'd like to change him. You'd like to change anyone's mind who feels that way."

It would sound good coming from the mouth of anyone. Reasonable. Honorable. Redemptive.

But to know of Rivers' past makes those words and others he's spoken this week sound downright heroic.

Like many American couples today, Doc and Kris Rivers are an interracial couple. Unlike many couples everywhere, they've been together for 34 years, the last 28 as husband and wife, their union producing four remarkable children, including former Duke star Austin, now of the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans.

But it wasn't easy when they first met on the campus of Marquette in 1980, where a much younger Rivers was becoming a point guard good enough to turn pro after his junior season, a move rarely made in those days. Only he didn't turn pro because of his talent. He went pro after Kris' car tires were slashed and racial slurs were written on a sidewalk in front of her parents' home.

"It was a long time ago and interracial dating was not all that acceptable," Rivers told the Orlando Sentinel. "No one single event in my life taught me more about life and people -- judging people and how they judge you -- than my years at Marquette."

Yet whatever scars Rivers received from that time, he kept them to himself during his years with the Hawks. Doc was always the guy with a smile on his face, the facilitator, as they like to say today of pass-first point guards. He could be charming and clever and sweet, as when he wore pink Chuck Taylors with a tux to his wedding, his groomsmen all donning black Chucks, the photo of that wedding party later winding up in Sports Illustrated.

Of course, an argument could also be made that Doc's lighter side unfairly masked his extraordinary wisdom and calm and leadership. In those Atlanta years he sometimes seemed better suited to commentate on the news rather than shape the news, an image he never seemed eager to change.

Still, how many people could overcome their San Antonio home mysteriously burning to the ground a few years later, his marriage believed to be the reason, and still not only remain reasonable, but also never mention it during this past week of serious racial interspection.

How amazing a person is Rivers? Consider these Tweets from Kris' and Doc's son Jeremiah regarding both Sterling and that fire:

1) "One man cannot have the power to make me feel hate towards a group, race or another person's skin color."

2) "My house has been burned to the ground, animals tortured and burned as well. Along with anything we ever loved, and held treasured, because of the color of my dad's skin."

3) "Racism isn't born, it's taught. It is the refuge of ignorance and seeks to divide and destroy."

Overwhelming odds are that such tolerance for intolerance was taught by Kris and Doc, an extraordinary lesson for us all, but especially for four children whose childhood memories went up in flames.

Yet here was Doc this past week, despite all that personal heartache, wishing he could change Sterling's bigoted beliefs, seeking calm amid the chaos, normalcy within the lunacy.

"He's had to be the shield for the whole organization," the Clippers' Matt Barnes told ESPN after Saturday's series-clinching win Golden State. "Covering our [behinds]. Covering everyone else's [behinds]."

We can all hope that the remainder of the NBA playoffs will be about basketball only because the basketball's been ridiculously good everywhere save games involving the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, who were singularly ridiculous in their sweep of Charlotte.

But one of Rivers' former Boston Celtics, Keyon Dooley, blogged words this past week that should be remembered far beyond this past week.

Recalling his brief stay in an asylum after a breakdown stemming from sexual abuse as a child, Dooley wrote: "Doc's the guy who came to see me every day when I was in a mental institution. Doc used to always say, 'If you want to go quick, you go by yourself; If you wanna go far, we gotta all go together.' I think his leadership is meant for a time like this."

If we're smart as a country, this Most Valuable Person's leadership could one day be meant for moments far bigger than sports, when "If we want to go far, we've got to all go together," could quite possible spark an entire nation instead of a single pro basketball team.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com