LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers still has a special feeling about returning to Crypto.com Arena for a game.
Friday will mark his second time at the arena to face his former team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
One could assume Rivers would downplay the game based on his success in leading the 76ers.
“Listen, I was with this organization for [seven] years,” Rivers said on Wednesday. “But a lot happened in that [seven] years. I left [the organization] a place of destination.”
That was his goal when he became the Clippers coach on June 25, 2013.
“We were the laughingstock,” he said. " ‘No one wanted to play for the Clippers. We heard all of that. If there’s a free-agent war versus the Lakers, don’t try.”
That’s what Rivers was told and he changed that. Not only did he turn the Clippers into a contender, he beat out the Lakers for Kawhi Leonard during the 2019 free-agency period.
“That’s something that I will always be proud of,” Rivers said of the transformation. “The Clippers now are in the NBA, and I feel like I played a major part in that.”
The thing is, Rivers was fired on Sept. 28, 2020, after failing to live up to the lofty expectations he created. They were favored to reach the 2020 Western Conference finals after the offseason acquisitions of Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers lost to the Denver Nuggets in the second round after holding a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Rivers had successful regular seasons with the team but had been criticized for postseason collapses. He was 3-8 in potential series-clinching games with the Clippers, and they twice blew 3–1 series leads.
Rivers even drew criticism for the Sixers’ second-round playoff exit last season on the heels of winning the Western Conference’s regular-season title.
But he’s a future Hall of Fame coach.
Last month, the NBA named him one of the 15 greatest coaches in league history as part of its 75th anniversary season.
Wednesday’s 126-121 victory over the Lakers gives Rivers a 1037-731 regular-season record, in stops with the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Clippers, and the Sixers. He’s in 10th place on the NBA all-time wins list. He was the NBA coach of the year in 2000 with the Magic. Eight years later, he led the Celtics to the NBA title.
With the Clippers, he had a 356-208 mark, with the top winning percentage (.631) in franchise history.
Los Angeles acquired Rivers in June 2013 in a trade with the Celtics for a 2015 first-round draft pick. He was named coach of the Clippers and senior vice president of basketball operations. Rivers led the Clippers to a franchise-record 57 wins and the third seed in the Western Conference during his first season.
His toughest battle was keeping the team together after TMZ released an audiotape containing racially insensitive remarks by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling during the first round of the 2014 playoffs.
That among many other things led to Rivers being the face of the Clippers. Tobias Harris knows that well.
He played 87 games for Clippers over parts of two seasons before being traded to the Sixers on Feb. 6, 2019.
“He meant a lot to the organization,” Harris said. “When I got there, I was like, I’m going to get to play for Doc Rivers. Like seeing Lob City everything. So just that whole thing like his resume as well, it was huge what he brought to the Clippers.”