Jeff Van Gundy does a stellar job for ESPN and ABC as an NBA analyst, but he was once one of the better head coaches in the league over the course of several seasons.
Van Gundy coached the New York Knicks for parts of seven straight seasons, before voluntarily leaving that job to take a year off. He then coached the Houston Rockets for four more years before leaving the profession altogether, but still regrets giving up on that position with the Knicks to this day.
Speaking on Doc Rivers and the situation with him leaving the Celtics to become head coach of the Clippers, Van Gundy defended Rivers, while citing his own experience in how things ended for him in New York as an example of what quitting truly means.
From Al Innazzone of Newsday:
Van Gundy opened up about his “bad decision” Friday during an interview on the Michael Kay Show on ESPN radio. They were discussing Doc Rivers’ decision to leave the Celtics to become the Clippers’ coach. Van Gundy defended Rivers, saying what he did 12 1/2 years ago was worse.
“I quit the Knicks, so I know what quitting is,” he said. “I did it. I quit. And it’s something I regret to this day . . . I was just emotionally spent. I made a bad decision and I quit.
“Doc Rivers didn’t quit. He was allowed to pursue a better opportunity for himself. That’s a significant, significant difference that everybody’s glossing over.”
Rivers was going to be paid $7 million per season for three more years if he stayed in Boston, to coach a team that wasn’t going to even make the playoffs once ownership decided it was time to blow things up. His leaving may seem like he was bailing on the team, but it was really the best decision to make for both sides.
Van Gundy left the Knicks after just 19 games in 2001, and said his situation was much worse than that of Rivers’.
“I had a great job with the Knicks,” Van Gundy said. “I let . . . frustration overwhelm me when I should have taken more time to come to that conclusion or a conclusion. Mine was certainly worse.”