There’s irony in Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach who left that team amid some serious he-said, he-said rancor, lamenting the end of the Boston eras for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Rivers, after all, is mere days away from his fresh start as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, rather lamentable in the opinion of many for this alleged upholder of Celtics traditions and the creator of the 2008 championship team’s “ubuntu” ethos.
But genuine is as genuine does, and Rivers — back at TD Garden for a charity basketball event Wednesday night — spoke with affection about Garnett and Pierce’s legacies in Boston.
For instance, as reported by WEEI.com’s Justin Barrasso, Rivers bemoaned the fact that only those within the team’s inner circle ever fully saw and could appreciate Garnett, so outwardly cantankerous in his public persona:
“Fans never got to see Kevin’s personality,” Rivers said. “I wish the city got to know Kevin more. He’s the single best athlete that I’ve ever been around as far as being a team guy. He’s as ‘team’ of a star as I’ve ever seen …
“He did a lot of good things that people don’t know,” Rivers said. “When rookies came in, he would bring them up to my office. He’d sit them down, and then he would bring his tailor in and say, ‘If you want to be a pro, you’ve got to dress like a pro.’ And he would buy each rookie two suits, and he did it every year. To me, that says a lot about Kevin Garnett as a teammate.”
Rivers, looking back, said the Celtics’ trade of center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for forward Jeff Green was a mistake for how it impacted Garnett. “The one thing we did by losing Perk was we removed Kevin’s protector,” the coach said. “I didn’t think it was a coincidence that, after Perk left, that Kevin got into all those little flicks with the other teams. Perk deflected all that.”
A different sort of mistake, in legacy terms, was the trade that shipped Pierce, the lifer Celtic, with Garnett to Brooklyn, Rivers said:
“That was a tough one for me. Even when I was here and it was being talked about — my thing is, Kobe [Bryant] is going to end up being a Laker for life. Dirk [Nowitzki] is going to be a Maverick. That’s the one thing that, if we didn’t do right, that was the one right thing we didn’t do for Paul.”
Certain Boston fans will quibble with Rivers’ license to ever again use the “we” word when talking about the Celtics. His own clumsily handled “trade” to the Clippers, from a team and a city for which he professes much love after nine years there, still irks and puzzles many.
But the fact that Rivers was back in town in mid-September for a charity event, his NBA responsibilities on hold way out on the other coast, suggests some piece of his heart forever will be on the parquet.