LOS ANGELES (AP) – Clippers coach Doc Rivers said employees on the team’s business side considered not working for the franchise after owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments were exposed a week ago.
Rivers met with team employees who were still upset and angry Friday morning, several days after Sterling was banned for life from the NBA.
“What I witnessed today, you realize this thing has touched a lot of people,” Rivers said hours later at the Clippers’ training complex in Playa Vista. “The people that didn’t do anything are being harmed by this, and I wish we could find the right solution, and I don’t have it.”
Rivers made the trip downtown at the request of other top executives with the Clippers, who will play the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series Saturday night.
Instead of preparing for the biggest game of the season, Rivers spent the morning at the Clippers’ team offices, listening to employees in ticket sales, marketing and other departments who took the brunt of public backlash against the Clippers in phone calls and other contact with the public.
“They really haven’t had a lot of people talking to them,” Rivers said of the team employees. “It was really hard to see them. I didn’t realize. Ticket people, marketing people, and they’re sitting there crying, and I felt so bad for them. I was thinking, ‘My God, we’ve been in this thing as players and as the coaches.’ You forget that these are the people that are on the front line, and they work for the organization, too.”
When asked why he made the trip at such a crucial time for his basketball team, Rivers said: “There was a need.”
“I can’t share everything, but it was important that I did it today, let’s put it that way,” the coach added. “They’re just like our players. I’ll say this much: Our players thought about not working. So did our employees, and they still felt that way. They needed somebody to ask them to continue to work and support us. So we’re still trying to put this thing together.”
Rivers has been on the Clippers’ bench for less than a year, but the veteran NBA coach and player has emerged as the public face of the franchise during Sterling’s ouster. Rivers also is the Clippers’ senior vice president for basketball operations, giving him a voice in personnel decisions.
Sterling acquired the coach from the Boston Celtics last June in a trade for a first-round pick in the 2015 draft, signing him to a contract paying him a reported $7 million per year.
Rivers won an NBA title in 2008 and reached two NBA finals during nine seasons as the Celtics’ coach. He coached just over four seasons with the Orlando Magic before taking over in Boston.
He also had a 13-season playing career for four franchises, even playing one season for Sterling with the Clippers in 1991-92.
Rivers refused to meet with Sterling shortly after the comments were made public, openly acknowledging his personal conflict about continuing with the club. He has been praised for his frankness and leadership during the crisis, but Rivers is reluctant to take credit.
“I don’t know if I’m doing a good job,” he said. “I’m just doing my job. We didn’t know this was coming. Last time I met (with team employees) was before the season, and we talked about our goals as a group, being a championship team and a championship organization. They just felt like now, we’ve been knocked back down and we have to start all over again, and I told them, ‘Yeah, you’re right, you do.’ There’s no quick solution to this. … We’ve got to redo it, and I told them that.
“I told them I want to be there for them as much as I can, but it’s hard.”