By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
CHICAGO – If the pressures on an NBA head coach during the regular season can be described as some demanding boss loudly nagging you for six months that there’s more work to be done, the urgent postseason version would be a Marine drill instructor stalking your every step and screaming 24/7 an inch from your face.
As much as Washington’s Randy Wittman and Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau were dealing with their playoffs D.I., immersed in their Eastern Conference first-round series, they couldn’t help but think about their friend Doc Rivers. Rivers was facing on the West Coast something far more frantic and debilitating as the Donald Sterling fiasco flared up, eating everything in its NBA path for four days.
As the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers – Sterling’s team – Rivers was stuck at ground zero, his ability to focus on the Golden State Warriors waylaid by what became a national scandal and media feeding frenzy.
“I can only imagine – or I can’t imagine – having to deal with something like that when you’re worrying about beating a team in a playoff series,” said Wittman, who entered the NBA in the same 1983 draft as Rivers. They played their first five seasons together in Atlanta, teamed up as investors away from the game and remain extremely close.
Wittman said he had talked to Rivers more than once since Sterling’s racist remarks on an audio recording were made public, leading to an investigation and the swift and severe penalties Tuesday from commissioner Adam Silver.
“I was just trying to be there for him, obviously,” Wittman said. “I think he ‘s handled it as well as you can handle it. That doesn’t surprise me with Doc.
“I just wanted to be there to support him and try to help him get his mind back to what it should be. And that’s playing basketball. I think hopefully after today that can happen.”
Thibodeau has known Rivers for more than 20 years, from the days when the Bulls coach was an assistant in New York and elsewhere and the Clippers coach was playing in the league. They joined up in Boston from 2007-2010, Thibodeau largely installing the Celtics’ defense for a team that won the 2008 NBA championship and went back to the Finals in 2010.
Connecting with Rivers by texts through the controversy, Thibodeau said several times over the weekend that his friend, given his personality and skills, might have been the best equipped among the NBA’s head coach to steer his team – and within his limits, the league – through the furor.
“Because this is a big issue for our whole league,” Thibodeau had said Monday. “Doc is a great leader with a lot of strength, a lot of composure. He’ll help guide us through it.”
Now Rivers can concentrate on guiding the Clippers through it. With peers and buddies who have his back.