This story is one of seemingly a thousand (some public, some not) that illustrate how chaotic things were when Donald Sterling owned the Clippers.
Doc Rivers is NBA coaching royalty, a championship coach (one of six now currently on an NBA sideline), a former NBA coach of the Year, and the kind of guy players — specifically Kawhi Leonard — love and want to play for. He’s a guy who played a big role in turning the Clippers around.
However, Rivers almost didn’t last six days on the Clippers job.
Rivers told the story to Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times. It begins when Sterling tried to stop an already agreed to sign-and-trade to bring in J.J. Redick to Los Angeles. The Clippers’ coach explained what happened
“I was on the job for six days and I quit,” Rivers said. “The deal went through and everyone said it was a great deal. I flew back home to Orlando for a couple of days and I got a call from [former Clippers president] Andy Roeser saying Donald Sterling decided he didn’t want to do the deal. I said, ‘What do you mean? The deal is already done. JJ is a free agent. He backed out of a deal to sign with us. If we don’t do this deal we’ll never get another free agent. It’s our word.’”
“I got on the phone with Donald and he was telling me how great his word was,” Rivers said. … “I was in the airport parking lot screaming, ‘No, no, no, no! You’re not going to do this! This is my reputation!’ He just went on and on about his reputation and how great it was…
“Finally at the end of it I said, ‘If you don’t do the trade, I quit.’ He said, ‘You can’t quit, you signed a five-year deal, I’ll make sure you don’t coach anywhere!’ I said, ‘I’m fine with that. I’ll find a job…
The next morning, Roeser told Rivers the deal was done. “I still have no idea what happened,” Rivers said. “I guess Donald just changed his mind, but I had quit.”
Rivers was part of a wave that came in and worked to change the Clippers’ culture. Blake Griffin played a vital role in that — he not only was an elite talent, but he also has an incredible work ethic and Neil Olshey, among others, pushed the Clippers to start matching it off the court on the basketball side. Change did not come easy, something Rivers talks about in the L.A. Times story, which is why you should read it.
If you’re up for a deep dive into the sleazy world of Donald Sterling, check out the podcast series Ramona Shelburne of ESPN did on him, it’s nothing short of brilliant.