Note: This is a serious piece that does not concern basketball very much and deals with mature subject matter. If you’re not mature enough to handle it, you can go away now. I implore you, though, to read my disclaimer at the bottom before making any comments on this piece.
Doc Rivers has always seemed genuine. He’s always seemed like a decent person whose values are in order. And while you never know what a person is like behind closed doors, away from the cameras, and totally un-guarded, you can piece together certain things that can complete the picture. It’s not unlike an archaeologist piecing together a picture of a dinosaur from an incomplete skeleton. You find enough of the right bones, and eventually the entire picture comes into focus, regardless of a few missing pieces.
The biggest piece of determining who anyone is, is how others speak of him or her. And the next bad thing anyone says about Doc as a person will be the first thing I’ve ever heard. Kevin Garnett famously swears to run through walls if Doc so ordered, and that’s not because Doc draws up a fine out-of-bounds play. It’s because of how Doc treats him as a man. Others will fall in line to take a crack at the wall for the same reason. They respect a man who respects them, even though he wields Castro-like authority.
The next piece in the Doc Rivers excavation is his self-sacrifice for his family. The rigors of the NBA, or any professional coaching job, demand full attention during every waking moment. Or, at least, that’s what we’re led to believe. Doc, though, has managed to balance being a good father with being a good coach. Honestly, my favorite image of Doc Rivers that doesn’t involved the championship is this celebration of Austin’s game-winning shot against North Carolina. The pure, unbridled joy he felt at the moment is a testament to how much of a family man he really is. In this world of professional athletes and coaches pushing family aside to pursue their personal goals, that images is especially heart warming.
And then there are the words he says and the way he conducts himself publicly. This is the hardest part of this whole puzzle because so many of these guys are coached in saying the right words. Some guys can really sell it. But, after years of watching people talk in front of a camera, you can often figure out who’s being sincere, and who isn’t. Of course, it’s not an exact science. There are people like a certain shooting guard for the Miami Heat who can fool the B.S. detector. But there’s something about Doc and the way he says things that makes you believe it comes from the heart.
Which brings us to the impetus for this praise.
Beyond sports, there is a real world, where real people live with real problems. Those problems evolve over generations. A hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote. Now they’re CEO’s. 50 years ago, a black man couldn’t eat at the same restaurant as white people. Now one is President. And while those societal advancements don’t mean the ills and ignorance that fueled the prejudice are cured, they are clear, obvious signs of attitudinal change.
Today, there is a new fight for civil rights. Homophobia is the one of the few remaining, somewhat “acceptable” form of prejudice in today’s society. Terms like “fag” are thrown around as casual insults… “good-natured ribbing,” without a second thought about the ramifications of the word. And the fear of being branded as gay has led to un-tolled secrets being kept around the world…
… and many of them in professional sports.
Statistically, there is a percentage of professional athletes that are gay. A recent Gallup report found 3.4% of Americans identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Knowing the secrets people keep, chances are good that the number is actually higher. And there’s no reason to believe professional athletes are exempt from that ratio. That means there are a few. And there are probably a few in the NBA.
John Amaechi is the only NBA player to come out as a homosexual. He played for Doc Rivers in the 2000-01 season. In an interview with Boston Spirit, Doc discussed Amaechi, and gay players in the NBA.
Boston Spirit: You were one of the first people to come out and stand behind John Amaechi when he came out. Did you have to think about that at all? Were you worried what people might think?
Doc Rivers: No, I could care less what people thought and I didn’t worry about it at all. It’s not one of those things where we had to have a front office discussion. It’s funny, I actually think someone in the front office wanted to have a discussion and I said ‘For What? And that’s how I felt about it. It was easy for me. John’s a great, great guy.
BS: Was it a surprise to you when John came out?
DR: No, not really. Sexual orientation is always talked about in locker rooms just like everywhere. I was happy that he came out. It wasn’t a surprise to me that he came out because he hadn’t shared it â€” but he had, if you know what I mean. It probably was a surprise for others.
BS: Was it a surprise for his teammates?
DR: I would say it was about half and half. Later on I got some calls from some of his teammates. Some of them brought it up and some didn’t some said they were surprised and some said they weren’t surprised at all. What I was happiest about is that you could tell it wasn’t a big deal for them. Obviously he was a bit removed because he made the announcement when he wasn’t playing for us, it was later, but not one guy made a bad comment. It really wasn’t a big deal.
There is a difference between “tolerance” and “acceptance”. Tolerance is a great step. Acceptance is the goal. And what makes Doc such a great individual is the fact that he simply doesn’t give a damn what anyone’s sexual orientation is. And that’s the goal, really, in a civil rights issue. To be judged simply on who you are, and your abilities as an individual. That’s who Doc Rivers is.
DR: You know, I am interracially married. I’m open minded, I’ve always been open minded. I don’t think there was one thing that influenced me. My father was a cop, my mother worked on an assembly line. I don’t like anyone that is prejudiced. I dealt with it growing up in Chicago. I don’t think you should be judged by anything except for your actions and what you do. That’s just the way I was brought up. Look, there are going to be people who hate in everything. There are people who hate me for being an awful coach or for being black or being whatever. That’s just the way it is. Like Bill Cosby said, he had the number one show on television for five or six years and he got 100,000 hate letters a year. So it goes to show, you’re not going to please everyone.
My respect for Doc was already quite high before. It’s off the charts now. Because its easy to be the good coach and motivator of men if you know the game of basketball and a little bit about human psychology. It’s not as easy to do the right thing off the floor, and have the proper perspective about everything else in life.
Doc’s words are simple. If I saw him tomorrow and praised him for them he’d blow it off. But it’s the simplicity and matter-of-fact “I don’t get why everyone isn’t like this already” attitude that makes him so great.
Because this is difficult stuff. And not enough people are like this. And this, quite simply, makes Doc Rivers one hell of a human being.
I know the subject matter of this piece makes it tempting for some to make a gay joke in the comments. But let me be clear about one very simple thing: not a single one will be tolerated. Any homophobic jokes made by ANYONE, even if you’ve been a frequent contributor to this site, will result in being banned. There will be no exceptions.
Please take this into consideration if you choose to comment.