Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations, met with Michael Rapaport in an exclusive live episode of I AM RAPAPORT to talk Clippers, basketball and Kevin Garnett.
Rivers believes that the most important thing a team can be is close because “if you can create more than just a team, then you have a chance, when things get bad, to get through it.”
“We had this thing in Boston, ‘Ubuntu,’ a [South] African word,” said Rivers. “[It means] a person is a person through other people. I can’t be all I can be unless you are. I need you to be great so that I can be great.”
The closeness of Rivers’ team and the strong connection to Ubuntu lives on.
“Tony Allen, when we were playing in Memphis, he’s stretching and I walk by and he grabs my hand and says ‘Ubuntu,'” said Rivers. “So, it’s still in that group. And it’s what Kevin Garnett does now, trying to get our guys to understand that that’s not fake, you have to actually believe that.”
A close-knit team is a difference maker for teams because “you’re going to have those moments and bad streaks” and when they come “when you are closer you can yell at each other more, you can get on each other more.”
A team that is closer has more opportunity to call each other out on mistakes and push forward together.
“There’s a trust,” said Rivers. “I can literally say, in Boston, like ‘Kevin, you’re awful tonight,’ in front of the whole team, and Kevin would say: ‘You’re right. My fault.'”
Rivers believes that Garnett personified exactly when it meant to be dedicated, intense and Ubuntu. Rivers admitted that he “thought it was fake because he had never coached him” when he would hear about Garnett’s “energy and intensity.”
“He came to Boston and I thought, there is no way someone can be this crazed,” said Rivers. “Someone that can have [that] much energy, and I got through practice two and you realize: Holy goodness — this dude is nuts.”
“In two years, Kevin Garnett did not miss one second of practice” because “he wouldn’t let you take him out” for any reason. Garnett would tell Rivers, every time he tried to sit him in practice, that “Warriors never miss a second.”
“‘If the head chief misses, then everyone else sees it, and it makes them weak’ [Garnett would say]. And I would think: ‘Kevin, you need to go sit down for 10 minutes and get some rest,'” said Rivers. “But he would not. If you took him out, he would run on the side and mock whatever his guy was doing [while they were scrimmaging], it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Rivers calls the moment Garnett beat “Big Baby” Glen Davis in a “minute-long arm wrestle” the “most mentally tough thing [I] had ever seen in my life, because there is no way Kevin can beat Baby, but he beat him mentally.”
“Kevin wouldn’t give in. In the last minute, Kevin gets him, and I was shocked. Funny thing is, Kevin did not stop staring at him the entire time,” said Rivers. “I tell people the most mentally tough thing I’ve ever seen in basketball was this arm wrestling competition because it was impossible for [Garnett] to win.”