Unlike most NBA head coaches, Doc’s rare background as a former player of Jordan’s generation turned veteran head coach of LeBron’s era enables Rivers to see things through two separate sets of lenses.
This made for an intriguing response when the topic arose while the Sixers head coach was a guest on a recent episode of Showtime’s All The Smoke alongside hosts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson.
Doc Rivers On Jordan: ‘Michael Was Ruthless’
When asked what it was like playing against the toughest guards the NBA had to offer throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Jordan’s name was instantly mentioned.
“Michael was tough, Michael was ruthless,” Rivers said. “People don’t get it when we talk about Michael. The guys that played against him. I mean, Kobe approached his [Jordan’s] competitiveness. Other than that, I don’t remember seeing anyone more competitive. I remember his rookie year, it was my second year and he got off to an amazing start.
“I remember my first thought was ‘there’s no way he can play that hard his entire career’ and 10 years later; he was still playing the same way.”
Doc Rivers: ‘Michael’s The Greatest Player But LeBron’s Going To Have The Greatest Career, Ever’
By his account, Jordan’s impact extended beyond his offensive capabilities.
“I was amazed at how much he gave on the defensive end and the offensive end and his energy level at which he played,” Rivers added. “I don’t think there’s been anyone like that. I hate comparing the generations because LeBron’s going to end up having the greatest career ever.
For me, Michael’s the greatest player ever but LeBron’s going to have the greatest career, ever. And what he’s doing right now is incredible. It’s unbelievable.”
As for the hardest player to defend; Rivers went with Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Stating Magic’s size made him very difficult to guard and Johnson’s relentless peskiness was a constant thorn in Doc’s side on nights he faced the Lakers.
Doc Rivers’ Christmas Day Showdown Vs. Isiah Thomas
Keeping the conversation locked-on toughest players Doc has ever faced, Rivers mentioned Detriot Pistons Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas; a rivalry that dates back to when the two were high schoolers. Rivers, a junior at Proviso East in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, Illinois, and Thomas was a senior at St. Joseph.
The Chicago-bred prospects were two of the top-ranked point guards in the country.
“Isiah I grew up playing against. We had some battles,” Rivers said. “We were ranked no. 1 and 2 in high school. He beat us in a big game, they knocked us out of the state tournament. We played that same year in a Christmas tournament — think about this, this was was in 1979. My brother sold a ticket for a high school game in 1979 for $500. Think about that — that’s how big.
“That game; was one of the biggest games ever because Isiah was the no. 1 player in the country as a senior and I was the no. 1 player as a junior, from the same area. It was a war that night.”