He just might cure what ails 'em
Doc Rivers, huh? I don't know how happy the players and fans are going to be, but I can assure you that we media types are happy. Glenn "Doc" Rivers has never uttered a dull sentence in his life.
And you can be sure he knows what he's in for. The man is too smart not to realize the enormity of his task here in Boston.
I don't know whether to say "Congratulations" or "Are you crazy?" As constituted, the Celtics are not exactly a growth stock. There are a lot of holes, and their best player is in need of some reassurance.
I'm sure none of this fazes our new hoop mentor. At 42, he is a proper blend of experience and enthusiasm. He will see a glass full to the brim, with people he can work with. It's very often that kind of optimism that separates the professionals from the rest of us. They are doers, not moaners.
Doc Rivers has a little history here. Did you know that? Some of you do, I'm sure. If you happened to have attended the 1980 Boston Shootout, you well remember the first time you saw Doc Rivers. I have never forgotten it.
In the long, proud history of the Boston Shootout, we have seen many great players and many great performances. There's been a lot to talk about. But here's something I do not wish to debate. The greatest guard show in the history of the Shootout was put on at Boston University's Walter Brown Arena by a Chicago kid from Proviso East High School named Glenn "Doc" Rivers.
In 1980, the Shootout was in its eighth year and had already attained great stature within the basketball community. Doc arrived here with a big reputation and a bum knee. After hobbling through the first half of one game -- the estimable Charles P. Pierce says it was the New York game -- young Mr. Rivers was fuming. With a theatrical flair, he whipped off the ace bandage that was wrapped around the bruised knee and put on a show that took your breath away in the second half. You had to know you were looking at something special.
Chicago lost in the finals to Philadelphia, but the headline in the paper of June 15, 1980, read RIVERS THE SHOOTOUT STAR, BUT PHILADELPHIA CHAMP. Rivers had gone for 32, 29, and 32 in his three games. Our correspondent, David Moore, reported that the Marquette-bound guard had "exhibited a maturity and court presence that placed him on the highest of basketball pedestals." Moore further reported that "the magic, however, wasn't in what he scored, but how he scored. When it wasn't a swooping, double-pumping stuff, it was an all-net jumper from 25 feet. When it wasn't on a twisting drive, it was followed by his own shot to the hoop and getting the tip."
"When he tipped-dunked his own miss I jumped up and knocked over the folding chair I was sitting in and shattered it against the hockey boards," recalls Pierce, Marquette '75. "I promised to build the school a physics building in honor of Doc, a promise I have since reneged on."
Doc Rivers played three years at Marquette before declaring for the 1983 NBA draft. Partly because people didn't know whether he was a point guard or an off guard, he didn't go until the second round. He was, in truth, a 2-guard, and he was going to need some seasoning before he would become a legit NBA point. He worked hard -- not that anyone expected anything less -- and he made that transition with grace. He spent eight years with the Hawks, playing in one All-Star Game (1988), while providing the Hawks with great stability in the backcourt.
If there is a word that transcends "class" to describe his comportment as a player, it should apply to Doc Rivers. Writers don't make a general habit of going up to rival players before potential clinching games in order to tell them what a pleasure it has been to interact with them, but I am not ashamed to say that's what I did before Game 6 of the Celtics-Hawks series in 1988. The Hawks were up, 3-2, but the Celtics won that game and we all went back to Boston. Everyone remembers the Larry-Dominique mano-a-mano duel in the fourth quarter, but I also remember that Doc Rivers played a magnificent game with 16 points and 18 assists. He had already established a franchise record with 22 assists (an NBA playoff-record 15 in the first half) during Atlanta's Game 4 victory.
He averaged 17 points and 10 assists while shooting 51 percent in what may have been a career highlight series. When he fouled out with eight seconds remaining in Game 7, he was given a standing ovation from the appreciative Garden crowd. Perhaps you were one of those people.
There was no doubt that Doc Rivers was going to be a broadcaster. Being smart, facile with the language and witty, how could he miss? It was hardly a shock, therefore, when TNT scooped him up about a half-second into retirement in 1996.
The Orlando Magic made him their coach in 1999 and he became the Coach of the Year as a rookie mentor. Pretty good. Now I'm not going to lie to you. I don't know for sure what happened after that. Perhaps he squeezed every last ounce out of a mediocre team the first time out, because the Magic records during his four years were 41-41, 43-39, 44-38, and 42-40. They were what they were. The team started out 1-10 this season, and Doc was able to resume his broadcast career, if you get my drift. Don't forget that he, more than anyone, was victimized by the ongoing Grant Hill soap opera. If Hill had not injured his ankle, we wouldn't be having this little dialogue. Doc Rivers would be in his fifth year with the Magic.
I'm not going to guarantee he'll be a great coach here, but I will be very surprised if he isn't a success, and I can assure you he is a terrific person who will represent the Boston Celtics with class and dignity.
Have I mentioned wearing pink sneakers at his wedding? I told you he was a cool guy.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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