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How Doc Rivers Is Helping Fight Poverty While Leading the Clippers

Doc Rivers has built the Clippers into a legitimate title contender, while fighting for anti-poverty organizations that can't fight for themselves.

Following last night’s win against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers sit third in the Western Conference with a 38-19 record and continue their pursuit of the franchise’s first-ever NBA championship. But basketball is not the only priority on the mind of head coach Doc Rivers.

Nearly 3,000 miles away, on the opposite side of the country, Rivers remains an advocate for Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), an anti-poverty organization based out of the town he coached in for nine NBA seasons. Their work fighting for at-risk youth is nonstop, but providing warmth to the homeless is a major concern during the harsh winter months.

“The people at ABCD are doing incredible work,” said Rivers. “It’s important to make time for mankind. We all have jobs, but that doesn’t mean the world stops. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work that we forget about everything else, but I’ve always believed if you can help, you should help.”

In addition to the frigid weather during the month of February is the looming reality of the upcoming elections this November.

President Donald Trump is seeking re-election, and there is potential for the Republican Party to also maintain power in the Senate and seize control of the House of Representatives. With a more fiscally conservative agenda, the possibility grows that nonprofits like ABCD will face steep cuts in federal support.

“That’s a major concern,” said Rivers. “People get caught up in, ‘I don’t want to vote for this person,’ but by not voting, that allows Trump and his party to stay in charge. His new budget creates more tax breaks for corporations, but that means they need to cut from the budget, and that means social programs. They just keep cutting social programs, day by day. They cut programs that can’t fight for themselves.”

Rivers continues to fight for ABCD. This fall will mark the tenth year he champions the Hoop Dreams fundraiser, which raises money for at-risk youth across Massachusetts.

“When it comes to Hoop Dreams, I love working with Bob Elias,” said Rivers, crediting Elias–who is ABCD’s Director of Government and Industrial Relations, as well as an agent for change within the organization since 1969–with the vision and passion to help the event thrive. “I love working with Bob, he’s so selfless. He does yeoman’s work and takes no credit. He’s a saint.”

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Despite dropping three in a row before last night’s win, Rivers is optimistic about the immediate future of his team. The addition of some much-needed depth to a roster depleted throughout the season by injury has the Clippers poised for a run at the NBA championship, though there are certainly a number of roadblocks in the West.

“It always comes down to having a group of guys that are committed to winning, and I have that group,” said Rivers. “This isn’t hard work, it’s joyous work. Guys accept and understand their roles. It’s a tremendous group to work with, it’s been a lot of fun.”

Always known as a competitor, an integral piece of Rivers’ personality not as widely publicized is the manner in which he relishes practice. Perhaps the byproduct of playing for uber-competitive coaches in Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, and Mike Fratello, the cerebral Rivers works his creativity in practice to establish a cohesive unit that is willing to fight for one another on and off the parquet.

Rivers acknowledged that practice time is essential for the Clippers due to injuries and new personnel acquisitions.

“It’s all about the continuity,” said Rivers, whose team just added Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson. “We have so many new players, and we just added two more. We’re trying to get them all to fit in, and it’s not like we have a lot of time to do it. That’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that’s worth it.”

A championship would mark the first in Clippers’ history, and would forever alter the history of the once-moribund franchise. Rivers knows that feeling, as his Celtics re-established their greatness in the 2007-08 season, running through the regular season en route to a record 17 NBA title. An integral piece of that season’s success for the Celtics was Kevin Garnett, who is a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 and will also have his number retired in Boston.

“Kevin Garnett changed the culture,” said Rivers. “There are just so many moments that define him. Kevin was such a great leader and so selfless. I’ve said this before but I mean it, every coach should have the opportunity to coach Kevin Garnett for one day. Kevin was that important to a team’s culture, he was so committed to winning.

“I’m so happy he’s getting his number retired for Boston. It’s so fitting. Boston and the Celtics are committed to winning, and Kevin Garnett is the perfect example of selfless, team play.”

Rivers’ Celtics competed against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers twice in the NBA Finals, with the Celtics capturing the series in 2008 before Bryant exacted his revenge in a series that went seven games in the spring of 2010.

Los Angeles and the basketball universe continue to grieve the loss of Bryant, who died tragically along with eight others in a helicopter crash last month.

Rivers is still mourning, and he struggled to share a message with those also hurting from the loss of a basketball giant.

“I don’t talk about it much,” said Rivers. “It’s a very personal thing for me. It’s very heavy, very hard, and it goes way beyond basketball.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.