Doc Rivers understands that not everyone is as thrilled as he is that he now gets a chance to coach Chris Paul, dine at the swanky restaurants in Malibu and chase his second NBA championship ring.
Back here in Boston, quite a few people are upset that he felt the need to depart for Los Angeles to chase those thrills. After all, the Celtics have a pretty good point guard in Rajon Rondo, none of those pretentious nightclubs can match the authenticity of the North End and just one year ago, his team was one win away from its third NBA Finals appearance in five years.
Rivers recognizes that those fans might have a tough time understanding why he left — or why anyone leaves Boston, for that matter. He was there for Ray Allen‘s unwelcome homecoming to TD Garden last season. He knows his return could bring the same sort of reaction.
“It can. I hope it doesn’t,” Rivers said Wednesday after being introduced as head coach and vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Clippers. “Again, I didn’t leave for the same reasons as Ray. It’s not like I was in this by myself. It was something me and Danny [Ainge] kind of agreed upon would be the right thing to do. This is a different situation.
“That said, I wasn’t in favor of that happening to Ray. Fans are fans. I get that. I’m always going to come back there. I have a million friends there. My friends are going to stay my friends. That part’s not going to change and that’s something I’ll always cherish.”
Part of what made Rivers’ departure from the Celtics so stunning was the fact that he had become such a prominent and proud Bostonian. He lived in Boston and spoke eloquently of wandering the empty, snowy streets when the city was shut down in February. Later, he became emotional talking about the Boston Marathon bombing and his admiration for the resilience shown by the city’s residents.
“Whether they’re happy or unhappy about this, I don’t think they should be happy,” Rivers said. “I had about as good a relationship with that fan base as you can have. For me, that hasn’t changed. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Boston fans and for the city. The biggest surprise for me wasn’t that the Celtics turned out to be a good team. I thought, eventually, we’d get that right. What I loved was, the fans were passionate even when we were bad. I fell in love with the city. I didn’t come with that intention, but that’s what happened.”
When it came to deciding to leave, Rivers therefore knew he had to consult people outside of Boston. Anybody with longstanding ties to the Hub would be biased. His choice of advisers did not bode well for the Celtics, though. The three coaches he mentioned were Bill Parcells, Larry Brown and Lou Holtz, all of whom were notoriously itinerant. Not surprisingly, they all leaned more toward “go” than “stay.”
“I joked with Larry Brown, ‘You may be the last guy I should talk to about staying or leaving,’” Rivers said. “It’s amazing how many of them, to a man, felt the same way. Lou Holtz wasn’t telling me to leave Boston, but he did say, ‘Doc, I left Notre Dame. Once you get to a place mentally where you’re not sure if your voice is being heard of you’re not sure if it’s time [to leave], then it’s time.’ That’s as simple as it was for me.
“That doesn’t mean I was right. That just meant it was my decision.”
That decision led him out of a perfect situation with a fan base that adored him. When Rivers comes back for the Clippers’ lone visit to TD Garden next season, he may discover people’s feelings have changed. Rivers loved Boston and always will, even if the feeling is not forever mutual.