Before he was even asked a question, Clippers coach Doc Rivers was in tears. The news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash had been devastating for all around the league, but Rivers had a special connection with Bryant—the two had been intense competitors at the peak of Rivers’ tenure with the Celtics, when Boston faced the Lakers in the Finals in 2008 and 10.
Rivers’ Celtics won a championship in 2008. Bryant’s Lakers got revenge, winning in 2010.
Rivers was asked ahead of the Clippers’ game in Orlando whether it would be difficult to play that night. Rivers paused and, uncharacteristically for one of the league’s most loquacious coaches, was left speechless.
“I just don’t have a lot to say,” Rivers said, his voice breaking as tears streamed down his face. “The news is just devastating to everybody who knew him. I’ve known him a long time. And, uh, you know, he means a lot to me obviously. He was such a great opponent. It’s what you want in sports.”
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Rivers Remembered His Fear of Kobe Bryant
Four years ago, when Bryant was at the end of his retirement season, Rivers relayed one of his favorite stories about Bryant, going back to Game 6 of the 2008 Finals. The game was a blowout at TD Garden, Boston holding a 29-point lead heading into the final period.
Rivers fudged some of the details (he did take out stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen before Bryant left the game, but only two minutes ahead of him), but he remembered it this way, according to Fox Sports:
“Game 6 was terrific. That’s a moment that I remember in 2008. The funniest moment, Kobe knows this, but we were up 1,000 [points] in Game 6 and the guy who you would least expect walks over to me during the game — [then-Celtics assistant coach] Tom Thibodeau — and he asks me, ‘Are you going to sub out? There’s six minutes and we’re up 42 points.’
“Of all the guys to say that, it’s Tom Thibodeau. And I looked over there at the Lakers and Kobe was still on the floor, and I actually said, ‘When Phil takes that guy out, I take my guys out.’ And Thibs said, ‘You’re safe.’ And I said, ‘Not with that guy on the floor.’
“I was dead serious. I had obviously lost my mind because it was a 42-point lead. But he put that fear in you, man. He could run off threes. I was obviously not good at math, so I was worried about him. Then finally Phil took him out so I could sub. It was good.”
Doc Rivers: ‘The News is Just so Devastating’
Rivers said that as much as he respected Bryant as a player, spending time with him as a former player brought the two closer.
“It’s funny, I was getting to know him more since he retired,” Rivers said, pausing. “Yeah, this is a tough one. I don’t … we have to go play. The news is just so devastating for Vanessa and his family. There’s just so many people he touched. Looking at my young players and see how emotional they are—they didn’t know him. It’s shocking new for all of us.”
Rivers apologized for not having much to say before he had to head in to address his team.
“I have to go talk to a team before a game and tell them to play a game,” Rivers said, breaking into tears again.
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