Doc Rivers has more than 1,000 wins under his belt, making him the 10th coach in NBA history to achieve the feat. But unknown to many, Rivers could have been doing other jobs if not for Pat Riley, who he credits for his coaching career.
Doc Rivers played for Pat Riley
Rivers played for 14 seasons in the NBA and suited up for different teams such as Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, and L.A. Clippers. He claimed he never dreamed of becoming a coach until he played for Pat Riley in the Knicks. Doc praises all the coaches he had been under, such as Mike Fratello and Gregg Popovich but reserved the highest respect for Riley.
"I had no thoughts of coaching until I played for Pat Riley and the way he did it. I thought 'Wow, that's pretty cool.' He inspired me, man. Just his speeches, his belief, and conditioning. It's his spirit and the way he approaches the job that sets him apart."
It's not easy playing for Pat Riley. It's true, he did things differently, and other players can attest to that. Shaquille O'Neal shared that Pat told them to bring one suit for Game 6 after leading the series against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals and threatened to kick out of the plane those who would bring more than one. It worked; the Heat won, prompting Coach Nate McMillan to use the same tactic in his team.
Does Rivers employ the same weird tactics Riley used to motivate his players? Doc did something extraordinary when he was with the Boston Celtics. He collected $100 each from the players, coaching staff, and personnel and hid the money in one of the locker rooms in the Staples Center. The coach claimed they would get the money back in their next game against the L.A. Lakers. The catch was that the two teams would only meet again if both reached the finals. The trick worked. Boston Celtics won the title over the Lakers, 4-2, in the 2008 NBA finals.
Doc Rivers coming into his own
An NBA coach's life is hard. They become the scapegoats for team failures. An unproven coach's lifespan in the league is about three years. That's three seasons to prove his worth or turn things around, which is unrealistically short. Those who have the longest tenures are the coaches who have won a Coach of the Year at least once and those who won at least one championship. Rivers won Coach of the Year as the head coach of the Orlando Magic and won a title with the Boston Celtics. However, the good also comes with the bad.
In the history of the NBA, 13 teams have blown 3-1 leads in the playoffs. Three of those teams were coached by Doc Rivers: Orlando in 2003 and L.A. Clippers in 2015 and 2020. Fortunately, the Sixers won the series against the Toronto Raptors and avoided adding to that infamous record. But that's the life of an NBA coach. When the team is winning, the coach is just doing his job, but often it's the coach's fault when the team is losing.
Pat Riley did Pat Riley things, inspiring Rivers to become a coach himself. Now, it's time for Doc to inspire the next generation of coaches.