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Doc Rivers on Julius Jones clemency: ‘You could make the case Blake Griffin, Trae Young, Steph Curry, Baker Mayfield just saved someone’s life’

Though he generally tries to keep a professional distance from his son Austin's NBA career, Doc Rivers said a timely word to help the player land in Denver, where Austin is now thriving.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers watches during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers watches during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)Read moreRick Bowmer / AP

DENVER — Before departing his press conference following the 76ers’ Thursday win against the Nuggets, coach Doc Rivers expressed pride in the impact athletes’ voices made on Julius Jones being granted clemency by Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt. On the day Jones was scheduled to be executed, Stitt instead changed Jones’ death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Years ago, one of the Fox News people said, ‘Shut up and dribble’ or whatever,” said Rivers, referring to Laura Ingraham’s comments about LeBron James speaking about politics. “You could make the case Blake Griffin, Trae Young, Steph Curry, Baker Mayfield just saved someone’s life.

“I’m just really proud of our players — NFL too — for speaking up [when something is] wrong, and it’s so powerful when you see that. ... He’s still in jail and there’s still a fight there, but he’s alive.”

Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the 1999 shooting death of an Oklahoma City-area businessman during a carjacking. He has proclaimed his innocence in the years since, saying he was framed by a former friend and co-defendant.

Jones’ case gained public prominence when it was featured in a 2018 documentary called “The Last Defense.” Many athletes with Oklahoma ties, along with other celebrities, have joined the public outcry in person and on social media leading up to his scheduled execution. It has also sparked a broader debate about the death penalty.

Rivers pleased son Austin finds home with Nuggets

While sitting on bench inside Ball Arena last March, 76ers assistant coach Sam Cassell told Doc Rivers that the Nuggets would be a great landing spot for Rivers’ son Austin, a reserve guard who had just been waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder following a trade from New York Knicks.

So as Rivers approached Denver coach Michael Malone for their postgame handshake, he dropped that suggestion into Malone’s ear.

Sure enough, the Nuggets signed Rivers to a 10-day contract about three weeks later, after star point guard Jamal Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Denver then kept Rivers for the rest of the season and re-signed him to a one-year deal as a free agent this past summer.

“I don’t get involved in it much,” Rivers recalled ahead of Thursday’s matchup between the Sixers and Nuggets. “You’d be surprised how little I get involved. ... I just walked up to [Malone] and said that, but I left that alone. I didn’t even go any further from that.”

Though Rivers was shooting just 28.6% from the floor in 15 minutes per game this season entering Thursday, Denver has become a nice landing spot for the 10-year NBA journeyman.

“He just loves the guys, loves Coach, loves the city,” Doc said of Austin. “He’s really happy, and a happy child means happy parents.”

That also means Doc got some family time with Austin and 8-month-old grandson Reign during the Sixers’ only visit to the Mile High City this season. The conversations are “way different now than it would have been three years ago,” because of Austin’s growing family, Doc said, but still do turn toward basketball.

Malone also understands what it’s like to be part of an NBA father-son duo. His father, Brendan, was a longtime NBA coach. As Michael moved up the ranks, they occasionally matched up on opposite sidelines.

“Once that jump ball goes up, no one really cares,” Malone said. “You’re trying to win a game. You’re not thinking about, ‘What’s my dad doing?’ It’s just out of your mind. … [Austin’s] father was a great player. His father has won an NBA championship. That’s a lot to live up to, but Austin needs to be Austin.

“I think that’s so important, and I think he realizes that. … Austin has a great head on his shoulders, and he’s been around the game his whole life.”

Tech startup LifeBrand new official team partner

The Sixers on Thursday announced that tech startup LifeBrand has been named an official team partner.

LifeBrand, which is headquartered in West Chester, uses artificial intelligence to help corporations and individuals maintain a positive brand by quickly detecting potentially harmful online content with the option to edit or delete. LifeBrand will also become the presenting partner of the a new digital series called “Pin, Retweet or Delete,” which “casts a playful, reflective light on the importance of special media awareness and its lasting impact,” according to a news release.

The Sixers are the first NBA franchise to partner with LifeBrand. All Sixers and Delaware Blue Coats employees will have access to the company’s products and platform.

“LifeBrand’s dedication to supporting curation and thoughtful ideation around an individual’s personal and professional brand identity mirrors the 76ers purposeful emphasis to reinforce and evolve our own brand,” Sixers SVP of Corporate Partnerships Owen Morin said. “We are proud to introduce LifeBrand’s innovative, AI-driven platform to our 76ers fans and family.”