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Doc Rivers discusses Jordan, Garnett, and 2010 NBA Finals in Boston visit

Clippers coach Doc Rivers returned to Boston for a charity event and discussed Mark Cuban, DeAndre Jordan, and the 2010 NBA Finals. 

BOSTON—For Doc Rivers, there will always be money in the Staples Center.

Rivers, the current head coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Clippers, was coaching the Boston Celtics in February of 2010 when he thought his team was not playing to its potential.

“I actually thought we were losing hope,” said Rivers. “So this was one of those things that wasn’t pre-planned, it was instinctive.”

In an effort to motivate his players to return to the Staples Center, Rivers decided he would take $100 from each player and hide the money in the visitor’s locker room.

“It was just a gut move,” said Rivers. “I thought the Lakers would be in the NBA Finals, and the only way to play them again was to get there with them.”

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If his Celtics made it to the Finals, the money—which added up to $2,600—would be returned.

“I started asking for money from all the players,” explained Rivers. “Getting money from Kevin Garnett was like pulling a tooth. I said, ‘Just give me a hundred dollars! That’s all I want!’ Then finally I told him what I was doing, and Kevin wanted to pay for everyone, saying, ‘I’ll pay for him, I’ll pay for him, I’ll pay for him.’ Then I made them all get all out of the locker room, and I lifted [assistant coach] Kevin Eastman up and we found this one spot where we thought security would never go. When we played the first game of the Finals there, the players got off the bus and went straight in the locker room. We were lucky that it was there.

“But the funniest call during that was when [Gregg Popovich] called me and asked, ‘Is there money in the San Antonio locker room?’”

Rivers, who now calls the Staples Center his home, returned to the TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday to serve as a chair for the Action for Boston Community Development’s “Hoop Dreams” charity event. Rivers helped start the event five years ago, and is proud of the projected $100,000 raised in one night that will directly help the inner-city youth.

“I never left this community,” said Rivers. “Just because I moved didn’t mean I was going to give up on this charity. Boston is going to be a part of me for the rest of my life. My kids identify as Celtics, and my wife does, too. That’s who we are. I was here for nine years and I made a lot of special relationships and I wanted to get involved. We did a couple smaller events in the beginning, and then we came up with ‘Hoop Dreams.’”

Rivers admitted he had only two regrets from his time in Boston.

“We had a better start in 2009 than we did in 2008,” said Rivers. “I didn’t think anyone could beat us. But Kevin Garnett going down changed everything. Kevin was never the same in 2009 after his injury. He was still good, but he was never the same. Injuries are part of it, but we could have had a real run, and that was taken away.”

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​Rivers’s second piece of anguish occurred during his departure.

“If you remember, it took me like six weeks to make a decision to leave,” said Rivers. “It was way too long. If I made any mistake, it was that I couldn’t make up my mind. I knew that I didn’t want to go through a rebuilding process. I’d already done that twice. My decision was between walking away or if I still wanted to coach.

“Leaving the Celtics was a good situation for me. The Clippers allowed me to be able to run an organization. That’s something I had never done, and didn’t know if I could. I’ve grown as a person because of it.”

Rivers also watched  DeAndre Jordan endure a growing process, and he is pleased he will start at center for the Clippers this upcoming season.

“DeAndre thought about leaving, but right away, he knew he wanted to come back,” said Rivers. “He even Snapchatted my youngest son Spencer. He had told two or three people he’d made a mistake [after signing the offer sheet with Dallas], but the Snapchat said, ‘Tell your dad to call me.’”

Despite verbally committing to the Dallas Mavericks on July 3, the deal could not be made official for another week. In the interim, Jordan dealt with second thoughts about leaving Los Angeles.

“Once he wanted to come back, we had to figure it out,” said Rivers. “That was the day with the emojis [on July 9]. We were just sitting in his house, his mom was making food, and we were watching the Summer League games. I didn’t know about any of that emoji stuff, or that Blake had one with a chair blocking the door, but at the end of the day, DJ changed his mind.”


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Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban was furious over Jordan’s decision, largely because Jordan never once called or texted to explain his change of heart.

“I kept hearing all summer, ‘Mark Cuban doesn’t like you,’” said Rivers. “I could care less about that. My only care is about DJ, and he’s a good kid. After all the complaints afterward, it was the same thing with me. DJ didn’t call me when he [verbally committed with Dallas], his agent called me. That’s the way the business works. He would have called me eventually. It was the same way when Ray [Allen] left the Celtics. Ray’s agent called me.

“Cuban said he deserved a call, but he didn’t deserve a call or an apology. He doesn’t deserve either one. It’s funny how much I hear, ‘Boy, Mark Cuban is mad at you.’ Listen, my job isn’t to make Mark Cuban happy. My job is to make him miserable. This is why it’s a competition. So the fact DJ stayed with us, and I always say, ‘Stayed’ and not ‘came back’ because he never left, was great. The kid had a right to get this right. It’s the biggest decision of his life, and he was able to change it before it was a career mistake.”

The Clippers exited the playoffs after a second round collapse to the Houston Rockets. Rivers knew his team’s victory in a ferocious seven game series over the San Antonio Spurs was going to have consequences.

“That was the hardest series,” said Rivers. “And the bad part about that series was that the winner lost. Pop and I laughed about it before the seventh game, and he said, ‘The winner may end up being the loser.’ And that’s what happened.

“Chris [Paul] got hurt, and we ran out of gas. But, in the long run, it was one of the most special series I’ve ever been in. It was so well-played. The focus was on basketball, and that is very special. And if we do win the championship this year, it will be because of that series.”

Before the Clippers win the championship, they need to fight their way through a dangerous Western Conference. Defending champion Golden State still offers a loaded roster, and the Spurs added two exceptionally talented big men this summer in LaMarcusAldridge and David West. Rivers’s moves included trading for Lance Stephenson and signing old friend Paul Pierce.

“Paul thrives in pressure situations,” said Rivers. “The most important thing is that he’s been there and he’s done it. When he tells guys what they need to do, they’ll listen. He was the MVP of the Finals.”