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Doc Rivers discusses John Amaechi and gay players in the NBA

Posted by David Zimmerman  October 29, 2012 07:06 AM

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Glen 'Doc' Rivers is about to begin his ninth season as head coach of the Boston Celtics. During that time he has seen his share of ups and downs and has handled them all with a sense of class that has restored the time honored tradition of Celtic Pride to its rightful perch in the NBA. Rivers led the Celtics to first place finishes in the Atlantic Conference for the past five years, advanced the team to the NBA Finals twice, and won the championship in 2008.

Rivers lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife Kristen and their four children. His oldest son Jeremiah plays basketball for Indiana University, while his daughter Callie played volleyball for the University of Florida. Rivers' younger son, Austin, played basketball for one year at Duke University before being drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in June of this year.

Recently Rivers sat down with Boston Spirit magazine to discuss former NBA player John Amaechi, the prospect of a gay player in the NBA, dealing with racial prejudice, and more.

Boston Spirit: You were one of the first people to come out and stand behind John Amaechi when he came out. Did you have to think about that at all? Were you worried what people might think?

Doc Rivers: No, I could care less what people thought and I didn't worry about it at all. It's not one of those things where we had to have a front office discussion. It's funny, I actually think someone in the front office wanted to have a discussion and I said 'For What? And that's how I felt about it. It was easy for me. John's a great, great guy.

BS: Was it a surprise to you when John came out?

DR: No, not really. Sexual orientation is always talked about in locker rooms just like everywhere. I was happy that he came out. It wasn't a surprise to me that he came out because he hadn't shared it — but he had, if you know what I mean. It probably was a surprise for others.

BS: Was it a surprise for his teammates?

DR: I would say it was about half and half. Later on I got some calls from some of his teammates. Some of them brought it up and some didn't some said they were surprised and some said they weren't surprised at all. What I was happiest about is that you could tell it wasn't a big deal for them. Obviously he was a bit removed because he made the announcement when he wasn't playing for us, it was later, but not one guy made a bad comment. It really wasn't a big deal.

BS: Is that your only experience during your time playing and coaching basketball with ‘the gay issue?’

DR: It's the only experience as far as someone coming out.

BS: ESPN asked some ‘experts’ recently which league would be the worst at handling a gay player and the NBA was the pick. Do you think that’s the case?

DR: I think the NBA might have been named as worst, and I don’t think it should be, because the NBA has always had an image problem, because people know who you are. They see you, the players are in shorts and tank tops, everyone sees your face and there’s only twelve of us. When you have people with baseball hats on, and helmets, you don’t really get to see them. People know us and I think that might be why the NBA got picked. I think the reaction by all the sports would be about the same. I don't think one would be better or worse than the other. Hockey has its ethics code; baseball has its own clubhouse rules, and football does too. I personally think people are more open-minded than they get credit for. I've always believed that. I remember when I was playing for the Knicks and I was doing something on Imus [the Don Imus radio program] — I think I was injured at the time — he asked me if there were any gays in basketball and I said "yeah, absolutely." The next day I got a call from the league and said "Did you say that?" and I said, "Listen guys, it’s a ratio, just look at the numbers." It was an obvious answer, it was easy.

BS: David Stern and Charles Barkley have both said that the NBA is ready for an openly gay player. In your opinion, is the league ready?

DR: I think it is. I think it would depend on the team but even with a bad team, I think it would be a story for about a week and then it would go away. It would really help if it were a good player [laughing]. If you're a bad player the team doesn't care what your sexual orientation is, and if you’re a good player the team doesn't really care what your sexual orientation is — that’s the bottom line.

BS: How about the players on the current Celtics, do they talk about a topic like this?

DR: Sexual topics come up all the time. Honestly, I try and stay out of the locker room, but I've heard them talk about everything. They argue about things. They laugh about things. And they laugh about every orientation. That’s what people do in locker rooms. But at the end of the day I think they would handle it great.

BS: Shaun Thornton of the Bruins told me that if one of the Bruins came out, he would fully support that player and he felt the rest of the team would too. He compared the team to a family. Do you feel the same thing would happen with your team?

DR: Absolutely. They would support him first, and then harass him second [laughing] — in a locker room fun way, not in a bad way. He would get razzed just like his teammates would get razzed. There would be no difference or change. I think it would be a one week story at home. Eventually one of the players would get upset because every time you go to a road game, the road reporter who hadn’t had a chance to ask the question would want to ask it and the player would finally say, "I'm done with this'" and that’s what would happen.

BS: You’ve played on and coached a lot of professional basketball teams over a number of years. How has the culture, as it relates to gay issues, changed (or not changed)? Any examples?

DR: Well, thinking in the world has changed and so if it’s changed in the world, it's changed in the locker room. I've always thought that sports is the leader, not the follower. For example, when you think of racial divisions, sports led the way, long before the active community. The reason is that we’re part of a team, and when you're part of a team that is trying to win, [teammates] don’t care what color you are; they don't care if you’re green. They just want to win. I remember in the ‘60’s, the high school I went to had a big racial riot and the thing that brought everyone together was the Proviso East basketball team that won the state title in Illinois, and all of a sudden, instead of having the state police split the road so the whites could walk on one side and the blacks on the other — they literally did that, it was on 60 Minutes — all of a sudden everybody was embraced because the team was mixed. I think that happens a lot in sports.

BS: What has shaped your way of thinking on this whole topic? Did you have any particular influences?

DR: You know, I am interracially married. I’m open minded, I've always been open minded. I don't think there was one thing that influenced me. My father was a cop, my mother worked on an assembly line. I don't like anyone that is prejudiced. I dealt with it growing up in Chicago. I don’t think you should be judged by anything except for your actions and what you do. That’s just the way I was brought up. Look, there are going to be people who hate in everything. There are people who hate me for being an awful coach or for being black or being whatever. That’s just the way it is. Like Bill Cosby said, he had the number one show on television for five or six years and he got 100,000 hate letters a year. So it goes to show, you’re not going to please everyone.

Boston Spirit magazine is New England's premier lgbt magazine. Click Here for a free subscription.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author: Boston Spirit Magazine’s daily blog brings you all of the information you need on New England’s LGBT community. In addition to highlighting local and national LGBT news, we will also highlight local leaders from the worlds of business, politics, fashion and entertainment and keep you up-to-date on all the latest events and parties, hot spots for travel, shopping, dining, and more!

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