Doc Rivers May 11, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers reacts during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

When the NBA banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making racist remarks, head coach Doc Rivers was told the situation wasn’t a big deal. It turns out that wasn’t the case at all.

In a tell-all with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Rivers detailed what went down when the Sterling tapes came out.

“Well, you know, it’s interesting. I’m sitting in my room and the PR guy brings up the video and says, ‘You need to look at this.’ I said, ‘No, Andy [Roeser] already told me it’s not a big deal.’ And he’s, he screams like, ‘It’s a big deal.’ He said, ‘It’s a big ——- deal.’ And so, I look at it and I’m shocked,” Rivers told CNN.

“I’m blown away, but I don’t know what to do. That is, you know, I look back on that two-week period where I was lucky. I was really unprepared. I mean, you’re not prepared for that: On what to do with your team. And there’s so many steps that could have gone wrong that went right, overall, for our guys. You know, the first step was, we had a team meeting right after it got out on ESPN. We called a team meeting and it was a misstep by me. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know, should I wear a Clippers shirt?”

The league also fined Sterling $2.5 million with NBA commissioner Adam Silver saying Sterling would never be able to attend any NBA games or practices. He also is not allowed to be present at any Clippers facility.

Rivers was unsure if he even wanted to represent the Clippers following the comments. Harlow asked him if he was worried what Sterling said would represent him.

“Yeah, yeah. And I’m the head coach and my players are going to have their practice gear on,” Rivers said. “So I put it on, and I walk downstairs and half the players don’t have theirs on. And so I’m like, ‘Uh, OK, yeah, it’s mistake number one.’ And I’m talking to them about this. And honestly, the first 10 minutes of the talk didn’t go right. And thank God I had the ability to read the room that day.”

Rivers said he noticed the particular way the players were standing. That’s part of what a coach notices.

“I read bad body language and that’s something the coach looks for all the time. I saw folded arms and I felt like they in the middle of the speech thought I was part of them… and so, I remember that and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want one of my players to say something that then becomes part of the story.’ I was panicked by that.”

As far as how Rivers believed the players should, or shouldn’t have reacted to the story …

“I didn’t want my players to say something that would become a bigger story than what Donald Sterling did. I was so mad at what he did. I wanted the spotlight to stay on him. And so, I told them, I said, ‘Listen, we’re about to go do media.’ And I have to admit, this is what I meant by lucky. I thought it was a story. I didn’t know it was going to be a story, if you know what I’m saying. I thought it was a sports story — it was an American story.”

What Sterling said — well, Magic Johnson posted on social media he wouldn’t attend a Clippers game as long as he was the owner, and there were other instances that surfaced Sterling was involved in other areas of discrimination.


About Jessica Kleinschmidt

Jess is a baseball fan with Reno, Nev. roots residing in the Bay Area. She is the host of "Short and to the Point" and is also a broadcaster with the Oakland A's Radio Network. She previously worked for and NBC Sports Bay Area.