Doc Rivers juggled questions about rioters in Washington, D.C. storming the Capitol and the Sixers’ upcoming game against the Wizards on Wednesday night like someone who’s been in this position many times before.
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Of course, he has. In August, he spoke passionately about police violence and racism in America. He also worked behind the scenes as players considered how to move forward after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was shot seven times in the back and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Players decided to strike, later resuming play after the NBA and NBPA made three commitments related to social justice and racial equality. Rivers and Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce are the two coaches on the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, which originated from the players’ strike. As Clippers head coach, Rivers dealt with the scandal, ugliness and racism that accompanied former owner Donald Sterling.
On Tuesday, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley told reporters no charges will be filed against the police officer who shot Blake, Rusten Sheskey. And on Wednesday, supporters of President Donald Trump violently breached the Capitol. According to NBC News, at least one person was shot dead and the Senate was forced to evacuate.
In that very intense context, Rivers was asked to share his thoughts.
“It’s pretty disturbing, obviously,” he said. “Sad. But what it’s not is, I keep hearing, this attack on democracy. It’s not. Democracy will prevail. It always does. It shows you a lot, though. When you saw the protests in the summer and you saw the riots and the police and the National Guard and the army, and you see this and you saw nothing. It basically proves a point about a privileged life in a lot of ways. I’ll say it because I don’t think a lot of people want to: Could you imagine today if those were all Black people storming the Capitol, and what would’ve happened?
“So that, to me, is a picture that is worth a thousand words for all of us to see, and probably something for us to reckon with, again. No police dogs turning on people, no billy clubs hitting people — people being peacefully escorted out of the Capitol. So it shows you that can disperse a crowd peacefully, I guess, would be the one thing. But it’s a sad day in a lot of ways; not good for our country and more across the borders, that people see this. It’s part of what we are, and so we have to solve it.”
Reflecting on the state of the country, Rivers identified another reason for optimism: He does not see the violent, pro-Trump mob as representative of the nation.
“… This is not the masses,” Rivers said. “The masses have spoken. I’m so proud of Georgia — Georgia spoke. So this is not the masses. This is a group of people who have decided to be unruly and if we just left it at that, I think we’d all be in a better place, right? But the symbolism of storming the Capitol without force done to them, if you’re a Black American, it definitely touches you in a different way. This is not a Black thing; this is an American thing again today, and we shouldn’t turn it into that. But it definitely makes you think, for sure.”
Rivers was alluding to the results of Georgia’s two runoff elections. Projected victories by Raphael Warnock and Jon Osoff will give Democrats control of the Senate.
Though there’s no blueprint for any coach on how to handle these moments in which life outside of basketball is impossible to ignore, Rivers’ job is to guide his team. That meant something different Wednesday night then it typically would.
“This is a tough one today because we’ve been all at home watching TV,” he said. “It’s such an individual emotion. It’s almost what I was saying earlier: As an older Black male, I’ve seen police dogs being unleashed on people, and then you see today where there’s nothing. And so that’s an emotion that I have, right?
“Tobias (Harris) and those guys probably don’t have that emotion. I don’t know how many guys were even watching TV today. You just don’t know, but you know it’s going to be the talk, for both teams. Washington, just think about them, it’s where they live right now, so they have a lot on their plate — probably worried about public safety of their families. So this is a tough one tonight, I’ve got to tell you, and we’ll see how it turns out.”