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Clippers’ Doc Rivers Chose Whining Over Winning, And Let Down Black Coaches

Remember the column I wrote two weeks ago about the passing of Big John Thompson, the former Georgetown basketball coach? 

The column explored the impact of winning. It was headlined: Big John Thompson Proved Winning Advances The Cause Of Black People More Than Whining.

I began this NBA season believing Doc Rivers could be the next John Thompson. I thought the addition of Kawhi Leonard would transform the Los Angeles Clippers into a dynasty, and that Doc’s success would create job opportunities for other black coaches. 

Forty years ago, Big John added Patrick Ewing to Georgetown, won a national championship and advanced to three national title games in four years. Big John’s success led to a black-coaches hiring frenzy in college basketball. 

Basketball, at the pro and collegiate level, needs another Big John Thompson.

It appears it won’t be Doc Rivers. 

The Clippers blew a 3-1 advantage to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. Tuesday night, in the deciding Game 7, the Clippers lost a seven-point halftime advantage and fell to the Nuggets 104-89. 

The Clippers quit. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if they ever truly engaged inside The Bubble. Did they ever engage in the regular season?

Before the COVID shutdown, Leonard continued his “load management” strategy, disrupting the personality of a Clippers team with a lunch-pail mentality and culture. A season ago, led by the grit and toughness of Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell and the timely scoring of Lou Williams, the Clippers overachieved. 

Leonard and Paul George brought different sensibilities to the Clippers. Doc failed to mesh the personalities, failed to impose an identity. 

You can blame “Playoff Pee,” who shot four of 16 from the field Tuesday night. You can blame the COVID shutdown. You can blame the social unrest related to George Floyd. It’s all just excuses. 

The Miami Heat added Jimmy Butler and have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers reshaped their roster around LeBron James and are in the Western Conference Finals. The Boston Celtics dispatched Kyrie Irving and are still alive in the postseason. 

Change is inevitable in pro sports. 

The Clippers don’t like each other. They have the best roster in basketball and they voted to leave the Bubble in the wake of George Floyd’s death. It makes no sense. 

Lou Williams decided chicken wings from Atlanta’s Magic City strip club were more important than Bubble protocols. Winning a championship this season wasn’t important to the Clippers. 

Like most everyone else in the sports media, I like and respect Doc Rivers. He’s a good man. He’s a good coach. 

He mishandled this Clippers team. He blew a major opportunity for black coaches. He had an opportunity to advance the cause of black NBA coaches. He instead chose to advance the cause of criminal suspects who resist arrest. His most memorable moment of the season was his emotional rant about Jacob Blake, a sexual-assault suspect who police shot in the back after he resisted arrest and reached for a weapon in his car.

“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” Rivers said in late August. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.”

Doc chose whining over winning. He chose being on the right side of some faux history that white liberals promise they’ll write 30 years from now rather than doing what’s best for black coaches today.

Had the Clippers won a championship, it would’ve all but guaranteed that Clippers assistant Ty Lue would be a head coach next season. Now? Who knows?

The mainstream sports media will whine that the NBA has just five black head coaches. Doc was given the keys to the best team in basketball. The team skidded off a cliff. 

You could make an argument that Kristaps Porzingis’ injury saved the Clippers in the first round. Dallas shooting guard Luka Doncic was the best player in that series. 

Success breaks down barriers. Had Jackie Robinson bombed as a player, Major League Baseball would’ve rebuilt the color barrier. Doug Williams, Steve McNair and Warren Moon changed the perception of black quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson have taken things to the next level. 

It’s not the whining. It’s the performance. Whining benefits white liberals in the media. It gives them something to talk about, something to camouflage their bigotry. Whining benefits the social-media branding of athletes. It gives followers a reason to like and retweet, and the whining camouflages black athletes’ lack of resolve to take meaningful action. Why take the risk of investing in black communities when you can kneel for three minutes? 

Performance benefits black people. It creates opportunities. It sparks real change. 

Basketball still needs the next Big John Thompson. Whining won’t make it happen.

If you want Jason Whitlock for your TV or radio show or podcast, contact gary@outkick.com.

Written by Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock is a longtime sports writer, TV personality, radio host, podcaster and the newest member of the Outkick family.
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41 Comments

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  1. Jason I agree. Doc Rivers is truly one of the best coaches in the NBA, but this year mishandled the talent on this championship caliber team. Instead of focusing on team unity, he focused on social justice. This lost season could be one of many for this brand of stardom in Clipperland – Me First Mentality.
    This does truly hurt head coach vacancies for black candidates. Focus on Just Playing Ball!

    • The best NBA coaches (Phil Jackson, Popovich, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, Spoelstra, Brad Stevens, Nick Nurse) are often the ones who make coaching their career and pay their dues overseas, G-league, high school, college, wherever, before ascending. John Thompson also built his Georgetown dynasty up from nothing. This idea of teams blindly handing a retired NBA star with little experience the keys to a team (Doc Rivers, Kerr, Derek Fisher, Nash) is not going to work out often at all. Doc got very lucky with the Celtics because KG and Pierce had massive leadership ability in their locker room. If we desire more black coaches, they should be coming up through the high school and college ranks.

  2. Great column, Jason.
    I feel bad for Doc and his Clippers. Now they’ll have a real chance to visit Kenosha and connect with the folks who put Jacob Blake on a pedestal, without the distractions of the bubble and the oppressive grind of the NBA. Barely over .500 lifetime in the playoffs…meh.

    JLW: “He mishandled this Clippers team. He blew a major opportunity for black coaches. He had an opportunity to advance the cause of black NBA coaches. He instead chose to advance the cause of criminal suspects who resist arrest.”

  3. I’ve always considered Rivers a good coach (not great}. His teams have squandered too many opportunities over the years. I just read Joe Kinsey’s column on the Clipper’s fold. Never knew that Doc just set a record by losing a series up 3-1 (for the 3rd time). He has also lost 6 series after being up 3-2. Doc seems to coach more efficiently in the regular season. Once he made that recent woke outburst it was obvious the Clippers would struggle to get focused. In game 7 some major blame has to go Kawhi and PG. They shot a pitiful 10 for 38 (26%).

  4. Jason the NBA is a told fraud . Doc should have worried about his team more then Social Justice .Doc Rivers as given up play off leads before .Looking at the NBA it is the most Un-American sport league there is. NBA along with Nike make money of slave labor in China . NBA as aligned it self with a communist regime and all the human right violation that go with that. That why it make perfect sense for NBA to a line with the Marxist BLM and to bar a great Christian coach like Mark Jackson from the league . In 5 more years they will be playing in Europe and China

  5. This Clippers team reminded me of the Mets from 2002-2006. The Mets went out and signed huge free agents like Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Cliff Floyd, Pedro Astacio, and Tom Glavine. They were loaded with talent, looked amazing on paper, and were completely AWFUL for several years after.
    You can’t just throw together talent and out pops a title. It takes chemistry and coaching to make talent work. Rivers mailed it in this year, and his team reflected his personality in their attitude, body language and quotes all year.
    Paul George summed up the 2020 Clippers, and Rivers coaching fail, when he said, “I think internally, we always felt this is not a championship-or-bust year for us.”
    That’s precisely why they’re headed home.

    • Hey John…I like Paul George’s commitment to the almighty dollar. No need to bust my azz, I’m still young and I got lots more paychecks comin’.
      Hey Steve Ballmer…maybe your team…I mean, the team of which you’re a franchisee person…a governor…um, the guy who signs the checks…whatever your title…maybe you need to follow the lead of Denzel when he took the Titans to Gettysburg and stood there in the early morning mist…nah, that’s just hollywood…that don’t work in real life with tenured millionaires.

    • I feel the volume picking up, but I generally have 2 pieces of feedback for the site. The content is strong, but the site feels a bit stream of consciousness to me. I scroll through regardless, but it doesn’t feel organized on the main page. Could just be me.

      The other piece of feedback is that I would love to see a scoreboard built into the site. I’m one of the ones who’s basically boycotting sports (I’ve been filling the time with NFL games from the 70s & 80s on YouTube). Because of that, I don’t typically know who won/lost from the previous night and I don’t want to hit any of the sports or the leagues’ sites to give them the clicks, but I want to be able to keep up with what’s going on so I have the context when I see the articles on Outkick.

      Just my 2 cents.

    • I definitely notice it. Up until this week, I tried to read every article every day, but I can’t keep up. I don’t like to do it, but I have to pass up many articles now. For now, my daily consumption is Joe Kinsey’s articles, any Whitlock article, any Whitlock Fearless video, any Whitlock on Outkick Radio show, Clay’s mailbag and Clay’s Outkick the Show on Youtube. That is about an hour a day of content. And this is maybe only 20% of the total Outkick content now.

  6. What makes it worse is that, like many great coaches, Doc was supposedly great at building team chemistry. Phil Jackson wasn’t a big Xs and Os coach. He and Pat Riley was about creating a team of stars and role players who would sacrifice for a championship. Doc was supposed to be that kind of guy – and he was able to get a bunch of individual stars to come together for the Celtics.

    The Clippers never looked unified this season. Is he out of touch with today’s players? Is it because he’s got family drama involved in the lockerroom? At this point Doc looks like a one-championship coach. Any coach can have a season where everything just works. But great coaches are able to repeat that process. Doc has so far proven that he’s not great.

    • Jerry was dead on in regards to the scoreboard. Definitely enjoying the added content. I joined Outkick to get more Whit (not a bad rhyme), but I’m making it a point to check out other contributors (such as Gary, Joe, and Bobby). I also listen to Clay’s podcast and watch any Outkick YouTube stream. I just read CPG’s column on US Open and NFL picks. Laughed my butt off.

  7. I couldn’t even watch the second half. I’m a big Clippers fan and thought maybe this time, but after blowing that lead in game 6, I had a bad feeling. The team has done best when playing from ahead, but could not always get it done if the lead was lost. The end of the 2nd quarter set the tone of a downward slide.
    I switched to the Angels game at half time. They were down 7 runs. They ended up coming back to tie up the game 8-8. They don’t give up. I kept checking the Clips game on my phone and saw the score just widen. Who was the leader? It doesn’t seem like there was one at times.
    I usually go for the Celtics in the East, but Butler has me cheering for the Heat. Hope they take it.

  8. Jason I could not agree more. Doc turned whiner and not winner. He always came across to me as a very decent person but I question his recent outspoken comments. As a San Diego State Alumni, I have pulled for Kawhi Leonard since he entered the league, I have always wished him the best! As a former Celtics fan and Doc Rivers fan I would have been sorry to see the Clippers lose if I still cared. Sadly, the NBA started to lose me when I recognized the league became so political. Now as Proud Supporters of BLM the NBA has TOTALLY lost me. When I heard Docs comments after the Jason Blake incident it made me sick. I believe I heard Doc say his father was a Police Officer or in Law Enforcement. I am slightly older than Doc and my father was an FBI agent in Chicago and Los Angeles for 25 years. During the 60’s and 70’s he was involved with investigations, battles and shootouts with the Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Army. At the time, I was too young and dumb to realize how dangerous his job was and it was not until High School and College that I realized the risks and dangers he faced throughout his career and especially during those revolutionary times. I am so thankful for what he did and how he raised me. This is why, I cannot understand how the son of a Police Officer could support the Criminal Martyrs of the BLM and make comments about living in fear of being shot, hung and killed. Maybe Doc was not that close with his father. Either way I doubt Docs father would find the same compassion for the criminal Jacob Blake. As for me my Blue Line Flag flies daily!

  9. I always liked Doc Rivers, how he played, how he handled himself. His words are disheartening, but really do show just how deep the real hatred and contempt many very successful black players, coaches, politicians, and celebrities have for the nation overall, and white people in particular.
    Those things he mentions have never happened to him, and likely never will. But he holds an animosity that no amount of success, racial equality, or victories can erase.
    And I now know many, many ‘black’ people (people of color) feel the same way, and I fear only a retaliation and subjugation of those they despise will suffice.

  10. Doctor Rivers is a failure as a coach in a players league? Greg POP was given too much credit for coaching two … 2 seven foot tall hall of fame forewords, then got to keep one for 15 more years. NBA doesn’t have coaches, it has babysitters.

    Rivers has had more talent than Pop Over the years and He has done less with it.

    They are both jerks, so who cares 😈

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