Before the leprechaun could land on his shoulder and deliver a dinky pipe to the cornea followed by a swift kick to the pot ‘o gold, Doc Rivers said it again.
“I genuinely see traits of Bill Russell,” the Clippers coach stated without hesitation or deep, deep regret.
In DeAndre Jordan. Rivers sees traits of Bill Russell in DeAndre Jordan.
Rivers – the former Celtics coach, the man who said Boston is the place that made him – has made the comparison before, only now Jordan is first in the league in rebounding and fourth in blocks, with first in shooting percentage tossed in for good measure, so who cares if it’s heresy.
Like the Clippers are sweating if Doc will be asked to turn in his Celtics card. All they know is that Jordan is motivated, by the presence of Rivers in general and specifically because of the statement, and playing at a much higher level than when he was getting routinely benched in the fourth quarter in 2012-13 by Rivers predecessor Vinny Del Negro.
Jordan was a longshot all along for the All-Star game this weekend, but could end up leading the league in three categories when anything close to that finish puts him in the preseason mix for the 2015 showcase and Defensive Player of the Year. He will have done it, but Rivers will have made it happen.
“Listen, it’s nice to be compared to Bill Russell,” Rivers said. “I don’t see a negative in that.”
Of course not. There are no negatives to be compared to the definition of winning and the epitome of a center who casts a defensive shadow that can blot out the sun.
It’s insane, though.
“I don’t know why,” Rivers said. “Why can’t you want to be the best? I don’t see why it’s insane.
“I genuinely see traits of Bill Russell. I didn’t say he was Bill Russell. I just think that’s a good thing. What do you see? You see block shots, he’s the (leading) rebounder in the league, he’s blocking everything that comes his way and he changes shots. That’s what Bill Russell does. So that’s been a good thing.”
But… but… but… Bill Russell!
“Again, I think it’s a good thing to say,” Rivers said. “The guys you talk to, they’ll say that and say, ‘Yeah.’ But there’s a lot of guys that have had the potential. There’s a lot of guys that have had the potential to be Kobe or Michael. And DJ’s following through. He’s really focused on that end and he really believes that that’s his impact. And it really has been. He’s been great.”
He’s been blown away.
“I can only laugh and wish I could kind of carry that guy’s jock strap,” Jordan said. “To be compared with somebody like that, even if Doc’s just joking, I take it to heart because I want to be the best defensive player and the best rebounder and the best chief out there on the floor I can be. I know that Doc instilled that in me.”
Rivers is not joking on this account. More importantly, Jordan knows it.
He met Russell once. Sort of. It was in 2008 at rookie orientation, an annual seminar the NBA holds to help new players transition to the league, often with advice from former standouts. The 11-time champion, five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star was there. They got within conversation distance.
“It was kind of like ‘Aaaaahhhh, I don’t know what to say,’ ” Jordan recalled. “And I just kind of walked away.”
With what Rivers has quickly come to mean to Jordan and understanding what the Celtics mean to the coach, Jordan is humbled. That’s been one reaction. Another is that the comparison motivated him to watch Russell in action more intently than before, leading to another possible impact for the Clippers. Where he once tried to swat shots to the rafters in a statement for opponents, Jordan learned from the old movies that controlling the rejection or directing the ball to a teammate is the better play and more hurtful to the other team. He has specifically been working on that move while already totaling 16 more blocks in 1,937 minutes and 54 games than last season in 2,010 minutes and 82 games.