Family Doc

To Rivers, more important than wins and losses are ties -- the ties that bind at home, which is why extra road trips are just part of the schedule

By Jackie MacMullan
Globe Staff / October 1, 2006

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WINTER PARK, Fla. -- He didn't grasp the significance of it at the time. When Glenn Rivers was growing up on the West Side of Chicago, long before he became an NBA star, a millionaire, the coach of the Boston Celtics, he didn't stop to consider how his father, Grady, a police patrolman, also found time to be his baseball coach.

During practice, Grady would pull his squad car onto the field and crank up the volume on the dispatch radio. If a call came in, he'd yank off his baseball cap, straighten out his blue uniform, and peel out, lights flashing.

By the time Glenn wore the basketball uniform of Proviso East High School, his father had made lieutenant.

``Then I never missed a game," Grady said, ``because I made out the schedule."

Grady positioned himself courtside, in full uniform, his badge gleaming. His wife, Betty, preferred the last row, so she could rest her back against the wall.

Did the boy appreciate his parents? No, not fully. Sometimes, he was even embarrassed by the way Grady harangued the officials.

It never occurred to Glenn Rivers that many of the fathers of his teammates were incarcerated, dead, or gone, just gone. You don't think of those things when your parents are always, always there.

``We were there," said Grady, ``because so many parents weren't."

Glenn ``Doc" Rivers wants to be there for his children. He insists on it, in fact. And if it means spending $200,000 of his own money, as he did last season, to fly private charters between Boston and Florida, where his family resides, then he'll do it.

If it means flying all night from Portland to Florida to see his son Jeremiah's basketball playoff game, then turning around and flying back to Los Angeles that night so he can coach against the Lakers the next day, then he'll do that, too.

``That was the toughest one, that West Coast trip," Doc said. ``We were coming off three games in four nights. We played Portland in Portland on a Friday night. I gave the guys the next day off. Right after the game, I chartered a plane.

``I got to Lakeland Saturday, watched my son's game, then flew right back to Los Angeles. I landed around 11:30 Saturday night. The next morning, we had a team meeting at 10 a.m., then went out and beat the Lakers. Then we flew home to Boston."

That utterly absurd weekend schedule was an aberration. Most times, Rivers would fly to Orlando after Celtics practice, attend his children's games, and fly back to Boston either later that night or at 5 a.m. the following morning.

``It's not the perfect way to live, but it's the right way," he said. ``I know there are Boston fans out there who think I should live up there. But if it comes down to upsetting a million people in Boston, or the five people in my family, I'll figure out a way to deal with the million."

His kids and his wife, Kris, are settled. He couldn't -- no, he wouldn't -- disrupt their lives. They have moved too many times, been through too much. And the fire . . . it was a cowardly act of racial hatred, and changed everything. It happened in 1997, in San Antonio, and it destroyed their house, but the damage went deeper. For a time, it destroyed their trust and faith in the goodness of those around them.

Life-altering event
Doc Rivers is wearing shorts. He is sitting in his kitchen in Winter Park, Fla., and he asks if it's cold yet in Boston. He loves the Florida weather. He loves the club where he plays golf and shoots the breeze with former Mets manager Davey Johnson. He loves throwing a football with his 11-year old son Spencer in January.

He is making some notations in his basketball notebook before his daughter Callie's volleyball game. Her 17th birthday is coming up, and her friends are soliciting ideas on favorite restaurant venues from her dad.

``It's nice here," said Rivers, gesturing throughout his home. ``Comfortable."

They have regained a sense of community in Florida. They have lived there seven years now, and for the first time Glenn and Kris Rivers have a home base.

So it's difficult to juggle Doc's schedule sometimes. It is a price he gladly pays, just as his parents did before him.

Grady and Betty couldn't make everything perfect for their two boys. The streets of Maywood, Ill., could be cruel, dangerous. Racial tensions were simmering, just one hurled brick -- or insult -- away from bubbling to the surface. There were riots, and incidents at their so-called integrated school. As Glenn became older and walked into a department store, he would often be shadowed, stared down, because . . . why? Because he was black. The ``routine traffic stops" he endured as an African-American would have been comical if they weren't so horribly sad.

Glenn didn't have Grady's fiery temper. The injustices ate away at his father, but Glenn was more like Betty; calm, rational, capable of moving on.

His temperament would serve him well at Marquette, when someone slashed the tires and keyed the car of his girlfriend, Kris Campion, because she was white and had the audacity to date a black man.

Kris was born and raised in Wisconsin, a stone's throw from the Marquette campus. She went to college 72 miles away at the University of Wisconsin, but transferred to Marquette and lived with her parents after her freshman year.

``I'm a homebody," Kris explained. ``Always have been."

She met Glenn one day after class. He walked past her and said, ``You know, you'd be kind of pretty if you washed your hair once in a while." Kris Campion was too astonished to be offended.

``He came back and said, `Now I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I don't want to date you. But I have a friend I might want to fix you up with,' " she said.

The friend was basketball teammate Marc Marotta. He and Kris dated for a year or so, but one summer, he went overseas, and when he came back, Kris and Glenn had fallen in love. The development did little to improve Marquette basketball's team chemistry. Glenn, mindful that his interracial relationship with Kris could be socially volatile, asked the Campions for permission to date her.

``People were so startled," Kris said. ``Friends asked me, `What's it like dating a black guy?' I told them, `That's the problem. You see him as black. I see him as a man.' "

Some people were offended that the blond, fair-skinned girl and the black basketball star were together. They found out where Kris lived -- where her parents lived -- and spray-painted their home. The crank phone calls were crude, frightening.

``It divided the campus," Kris said. ``It was horrible. It was also the main reason Glenn left school early."

Ginger and Bill Campion taught their three boys and only daughter to stand tall against bigotry. The Campions had participated in a peace march in Milwaukee in the 1960s organized by noted civil rights leader Rev. James Edmond Groppi. They had attended integrated church services to promote unity, and helped organize rallies with fellow activists to raise racial awareness in Wisconsin.

``When all that stuff happened at Marquette, my father told me, `You've done nothing wrong. We're right with you,' " Kris said. ``Then he said, `This seems like a big deal now, but tomorrow morning the sun will come up and you will be fine."

Her father was right. She married Glenn, had a son, and embarked on the nomadic life of an NBA family. Doc's career included stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and San Antonio. When he retired, he signed on as a Spurs television broadcaster, and bought his growing young family a big, rambling house.

On June 28, 1997, Kris made a last-minute decision to pack up her four young children and join her parents at their lake home in Wisconsin while Doc attended Detlef Schrempf's charity golf tournament in Washington.

``It was a Friday night," Kris said. ``I only told one person I was going. She was a friend. She went by to check on the dogs and the cats."

The animals were fed, the house locked. Sometime during the night, under the cover of darkness, the Rivers's home was torched. The firemen said it was arson, and suspicion quickly centered on some kids who went to school bragging about how they reduced the house of the black guy and the white lady to ashes.

``It was so devastating," Kris said. ``Everything melted. And our pets. Two dogs and three cats. All killed.

``They never convicted anyone for it, but we know it was racial."

Upon hearing the news, Grady and Betty Rivers winced from an old, familiar pain. In Wisconsin, Ginger and Bill Campion grimaced along with them.

``That bothered me even more than what happened at Marquette," said Ginger. ``To think someone could do that . . . it changed Kris. How could it not?"

Doc waited for things to settle down, for his wife to come to grips with the horror of what could have been had she and the children been home, asleep.

``One day Glenn said, `We're going back to San Antonio,' " Kris said. ``My response was, `Are you crazy?' He said, `Kris, we're not running from anybody.' "

Seven months later, the Rivers family moved into a renovated home just miles from the rubble of their previous address. By then, Jeremiah was 11 years old and had lived in six places.

``One day he looked up me and said, `So, Dad, when are we moving again?' " Doc said. ``I didn't like that. I didn't like that at all."

A sense of belonging
In 1999, Rivers was named head coach of the Orlando Magic. He bought a piece of land and built an elegant, spacious home on a lake. It's perfect. The kids have a pool, Doc has a television in nearly every room, and Kris has a place to water ski, just like in her beloved Wisconsin. They constructed a boathouse where friends and family could stay, and it immediately became the favorite vacation spot of Bill and Ginger Campion, who loved to watch the birds dry their wings on the deck.

Glenn and Kris immersed themselves in the community. Kris helped with charitable fund-raisers; Glenn was a fixture at his kids' games and conducted hundreds of clinics. They threw their support behind Shepherd's Hope, a wonderful nonprofit organization that provides free medical care and prescriptions to those who can't afford it. They discovered a favorite restaurant, 310 Park South, where Doc always ordered the salmon bites. They took in stray cats, stray dogs, and occasionally even stray kids who needed some temporary guidance.

Even when Rivers was fired from the Magic in 2004, which was a trying time, Orlando still felt like home. Kris knew another job would come along, and when the Celtics hired her husband, the family discussed moving. But Jeremiah was a junior in high school, on a basketball team that had a chance to win it all. Callie was a sophomore, a nationally ranked volleyball player who would have difficulty finding the same elite programs in Boston. The two youngest, Austin and Spencer, were thriving in the only environment they had really known. The discussion didn't last long. Glenn would go; Kris and the kids would stay.

``The fire . . . it changed my personality," Kris acknowledged. ``I've become incredibly protective of my kids. So when we moved to Orlando, and we found this great home, this safe place, I didn't want to leave.

``I know there are wonderful people everywhere. We discovered that every time Glenn got traded. But it takes time to develop that network of friends.

``It wasn't about moving to Boston. It was about moving anywhere."

Doc's frequent trips to Orlando became topical last season as the Celtics swooned. His work ethic was questioned. How can someone who is spending so much time shuttling back and forth be dedicated to his job? Rivers smiles. He is a poor sleeper, so he watched film and filled his playbook with notations during his charters south. He rented an apartment in Boston, and after practice he went home and spent countless hours on strategies to improve his basketball team. With no family to distract him, Rivers figures he's put in more time on this job than any other.

He does not deny that his employer was, and probably is, uncomfortable with his family arrangement. He solicited advice from Red Auerbach, who commuted from Washington during his tenure as Celtics coach, and Miami coach Pat Riley, who stressed the need to find a haven outside the market he was coaching in.

``Our major concern was we feel the family is a great support system, which is why we were always high on him bringing his kids up here," said Celtics managing partner Steve Pagliuca. ``But we respect Doc's decision not to disrupt his children.

``He's a very prepared guy. There has been no dropoff in our play or execution because he does the occasional thing with his family."

A tough stretch
The initial plan was for Ginger and Bill to come down to Orlando for a couple months so Kris, who does not like to leave her children with anyone but family, could shoot up to Boston to see Glenn.

But Bill's throat was bothering him. He went to the doctor, who asked if he was a smoker. He said no, and the physician assured him he'd be fine. He never did a biopsy. If he did, he would have discovered the cancer, and might have saved Bill's life. By the time Bill went back a second time, the disease was too far along.

``It was difficult to watch," Doc said. ``Kris's dad was the healthiest person in the family."

The Campions did spend several months last year in Orlando, but by early March, those days were spent preparing Bill to die comfortably.

Jeremiah's team was in the state finals, and somehow, Bill Campion dragged himself out of bed to go to the game. Ginger, in her attempt to help Bill into his wheelchair, fell and tore her ACL. Betty Rivers, so excited about her grandson's game, forgot to eat and take her medication for diabetes. As they walked out of the gym after Winter Park's loss in the title game, she fainted.

``One of the the worst nights of my life," said Doc, who had flown in for the game. ``My father-in-law was so sick, my mother-in-law tore up her knee, my mom fainted, and my son's team lost by 14 points. They missed 16 free throws. Then, as we were trying to get everyone back to the house, Kris lost the keys to the car. By the time I got on the plane back to Boston that night, I was scared. I'm thinking, `What next?' "

Six days later, Bill Campion died in the boathouse, surrounded by family. His son-in-law left the Celtics and flew home. According to Pagliuca, it was one of only two practices Doc Rivers would miss all season.

Settling into the routine
Kris Rivers is sitting in the boathouse, squinting out at the empty deck where her father once sat in his rocking chair enjoying the birds basking in the sun.

A new Celtics campaign will begin Nov. 3, and Doc will move back to Boston without his family. He expects his schedule to be far less hectic this year. Callie's volleyball season is almost completed. Jeremiah is a freshman at Georgetown, and 13-year-old Austin has a shot at playing varsity basketball as an eighth-grader. Spencer, a budding football star, has already shared a number of game days with his dad this fall.

Kris believes they are all where they should be.

``I'm immature [about criticism]," she acknowledged. ``I was never good at sports. I don't understand why they adore you when you are winning and criticize you so harshly when you lose. I take it very personally when fans are just being fans, and the media is `just doing their job.'

``I think it's probably better I'm down here."

She remembers how she felt when Doc had lost 11 straight as the coach of the Magic, and the pressure began mounting.

``I said to Glenn, `There's no amount of money that is worth this if you want out,' " she said. ``He said to me, `Kris, I love this. It's more fun than playing.' "

The coach of the Celtics is hopeful that one of his young players will shed the ``potential" tag and emerge as a No. 2 star alongside Paul Pierce. He believes his team must go with a small lineup and apply pressure to be successful.

``I love Boston," he said. ``The fans are demanding and knowledgeable. I know if we ever get this right, it will be the most amazing experience of my life."

It is getting cool in New England. In Wisconsin, too. Ginger Campion plans to bunk alone in the boathouse this fall, drawing comfort from her daughter and her grandchildren. She hopes Callie will be playing in the state championship Nov. 8-10, and plans to be there when Georgetown opens its season Nov. 11.

Doc has home Celtics games Nov. 8 and 10, and a road game in Cleveland on the 11th. It's possible Austin and Spencer will fly up to Boston and spend that weekend with him.

Perhaps Glenn and Kris will revisit their family plan when Callie graduates. She has been accepted to Florida, on a full volleyball scholarship. But Austin will be a freshman next year, so there probably is no good time to move.

Betty Rivers, who still attends most East Proviso basketball games, hopes to visit Orlando in the fall while her dear friend Ginger is there. Grady stopped flying after Sept. 11.

His son flies so much that he's thought of buying his own aircraft.

It wouldn't have to be spacious. All Glenn needs is room for six.

Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERY: Doc Rivers at home
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