Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers admitted that the racist remarks made by owner Donald Sterling were a “distraction” to his team in their first-round matchup against the Golden State Warriors, and that “it wasn’t easy” to wear team gear in the immediate aftermath of the scandal.
In his most candid comments yet about the controversy, Rivers told Michael Wilbon of ESPN on Sunday that despite the players conditioning to keep their focus on the court, “This was a distraction.”
"In our first meeting after the tapes came out and we had a meeting before practice, and when I walked in that room and looked at [the players'] faces, it was bothering them. They were angry. They wanted to DO something,” Rivers said. “We had to go to practice that first day, right after it came out, with Clipper gear on. …As a coach, I had to think about it. I'm not going to kid you. I walked out with my gear on, because I needed the players to see me with the gear on, but it wasn't easy to do it on that day.”
Despite the immediate challenges in the team faced in the wake of the controversy, Rivers said he believes that sports, which thrives on camaraderie and teamwork, are an avenue for overcoming prejudices.
“Sports, you don't care what's next to you, you just want to know, can he play?" Rivers said. "I think that does help. I think people who play sports learn that early on. That there's no race. There's people and I think that's important."
Rivers’ comments came just one day after the Clippers defeated the Warriors 126-121 in Game 7 of their first-round series. According to an ESPN report, players from both teams got into a "pretty serious" shouting match in the tunnel separating the two teams lockers rooms after the game. Following a regular season and playoff series that was characterized by physical play and strong words to the media, the in-state rivals have a clear dislike for one another.
L.A. now moves on to face Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals. Game 1 gets underway tonight in Oklahoma City at 9:30 p.m. EST.