LOS ANGELES – When Doc Rivers was the coach of the Boston Celtics, he called Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen one early fall morning six years ago. He wanted to take them on Boston’s “Duck Tour,” the parade route most Boston teams take after winning a championship.
About eight months later, Rivers and the Celtics took it again, this time with thousands of fans lining the parade route after the Celtics had won the NBA title.
There is no such traditional parade route in Los Angeles, and certainly not for the Clippers, who have yet to win even a conference title, but that didn’t stop Rivers from looking into what a Clippers parade would like.
“It’s a little more difficult here,” Rivers said. “I didn’t want to go on the Lakers' parade route like I did in Boston. I went on the Patriots’ parade route. I guess I could have went on the L.A. Kings' parade route. The little known fact, which I’ve learned, due to my research is here in L.A., and actually every city now, you have to pay for your own parade. You can actually create your own route, which I think is even more interesting. We’ve talked about that but that’s a long way away.”
The fact that Rivers has even researched and talked about a Clippers championship parade is one of the many ways he has gone about changing the culture within the organization.
It might take some time to see the impact on the court but he didn’t waste much time making a statement off the court when he made the decision to cover up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jerseys with oversized photos of Clippers players during games.
It was a decision that drew the ire of most Lakers fans as the Clippers’ training facility was inundated with hundreds of calls after the banners made their debut. It was an idea Rivers had when he recalled a conversation he had longtime Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte as the Clippers were blowing out the Celtics last season.
“He taps me on the leg and he says, 'Look at that,'” Rivers said. “I didn't want to look at anything at that point, we were literally down 30 points, and I looked up and you see all the banners. And he said, 'Man, I would never have that.' I thought, wow, he's right. So, again, the Lakers can blame a Boston guy.”
The decision was more about the Clippers making the Staples Center their home court rather than the Clippers trying to cover up the Lakers’ history.
“I just want to make this our arena,” Rivers said. “It’s about the Clippers. And when we play in our arena, it should be our arena. When I came in here with Boston, I had no problem seeing the Lakers’ banners. Now, when I came in here with Celtics to play the Clippers and I saw there banners, I thought it was strange. Why are we looking at their banners? I just thought it was strange. It was not meant to be disrespectful.”
The lack of history with the Clippers is nothing new to Rivers, who played for the team for one season and had to hold out for more money before finally leaving in 1992. When a reporter tiptoed around asking Rivers what it was like leaving the Celtics, a team with more titles and arguably more history than any team in the NBA, for the Clippers, a team with, well, um . . .
“None,” Rivers interjected. “You can say it. It’s OK. It doesn’t hurt us. It’s the truth and we’ve decided not to run from the truth, really. You’re right I came from a decorated team to an undecorated team and we want to forge ahead and have some decorations. It’s different. You don’t have the Bill Russell’s to call and talk to the team. You don’t have that history. We have to forge our own. That makes it more difficult obviously but if you can succeed, I think the feeling of success will be greater.”
Rivers believes he has the pieces in place to make a championship run with the Clippers this season. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can make the argument for being the best players at their respective positions and two of the ten best players in the league. Jamal Crawford nearly won the sixth man of the year award last year and Rivers believes DeAndre Jordan can develop into a candidate for defensive player of the year if the 25-year-old center continues to develop.
“It’s a hell of a journey,” Rivers said. “I like our team. I like what we have in the locker room. I like our guys. Our guys like each other. They all like me today but we know once the season starts and minutes are divided out, all that changes. That’s when we’ll find out who we really are.”
Until then, Clippers players have been singing Rivers’ praises. Paul and J.J. Redick have talked about getting goose bumps when Rivers talks while Griffin and Jordan admit they hang on his every word during practices. It’s the kind of attention a coach with a championship ring gets from a young team that hasn’t won anything yet.
“It’s honestly a pleasure to play for him,” Jamal Crawford said. “From afar you know how good of a coach he is and how good of a person he is and he’s accomplished all these wonderful things but it’s different seeing it every single day. He’s unbelievable. After his first speech, I told D.J. there’s only one other person who could write a better speech and he’s in the White House and lives in Washington.”
There aren’t many similarities between Rivers and his predecessor, Vinny Del Negro, but one area where they are almost identical is constantly talking about “the process.” It’s become a cliché around the Clippers to talk about being part of the process and not cheating the process and being patient with it as the Clippers adjust to a new coach, a new system and half a new roster.
“It’s a long haul. We have to do it first. That’s how you do it honestly,” Rivers said. “We just have to keep building and getting better. We have to stay focused on that boring process that everyone talks about but that’s what you have to do. There are no shortcuts and there are no guarantees. That’s the neat part to me. If you want something that’s great, there are no guarantees. You open your heart up to your team and the team opens up to you and you take the risk of getting your heart broken. I’ve had mine broken many times and it’s damn worth it. It is absolutely worth it.”
The process got off to a slow start on Tuesday when the Clippers lost the season opener to the Lakers but it wasn’t the kind of game or performance that Rivers expects will define the Clippers this season.
“If we don’t win the season series [against the Lakers] and we win the NBA title and someone told me I could make that trade, I would take it right now,” Rivers said. “When there is a new coach and a new system it takes time. I think the statements will be made later.”
As Rivers heads into his home debut as the Clippers coach Thursday against the Golden State Warriors, he is hoping he can figure out more than a parade route for his team by the end of the season.
“After driving here three or four times, I’m trying to find a route to get to this darn arena,” Rivers said. “Because the routes I’m taking aren’t working.”