COMMENTARY | Doc Rivers huddled his team on the TD Garden floor, barking out instructions in a familiar mid-game rasp that persisted for nine seasons in Boston.
But Doc had changed his scrubs. The cluster of home whites trimmed with kelly green had been replaced by royal blue and red as he diagrammed plays for the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite his new affiliation, Rivers was greeted by Celtics fans with a respectful hand and received an extended ovation in response to a video tribute following the first quarter.
After piloting the Celtics from the days of Marcus Banks and Mark Blount to the apex of Ubuntu and back down again, refusing to yield to the Lakers and Heat until the final ticks of the Game 7 clock, he deserved it.
The video tribute, a montage of a player's or coach's great moments with a respective team, has become the fail-safe to avoid an awkward crowd reaction when he returns to his former city for the first time with a new team. It's all highlights, all smiles set to schmaltzy music that leaves a warm feeling of nostalgic admiration.
For one night, Celtics fans put aside lingering hurt and confusion from Rivers' midsummer, mid-contract departure and acknowledged his contribution to Celtic Pride: 416 wins (third all-time in Boston), an NBA championship, and a classy approach that placed him on the short list of the league's most respected leaders.
A week after Rivers left for the Clippers, I ran into Cedric Maxwell, a man who also played for both organizations, traded from Boston to L.A. in 1985 for Bill Walton. The great forward and current Celtics radio analyst asked me if I thought Doc was a traitor.
"No. The writing was on the wall; it was time to move on," I replied.
"Then why does Doc get a free pass and not Ray Allen?
Rivers left Boston with three years remaining on a five-year contract he signed in May of 2011. Technically, he was traded. Allen was a free agent coming off a two-year deal who opted to sign with the Heat for less money. Both took off for greener pastures. Rivers didn't want to stick around for a rebuild and departed for the Clippers as president of basketball operations and new coach of Chris Paul. Allen felt he was being phased out in Boston after trade rumors and a hobbled playoff run. He was rewarded with a title in Miami last spring. Neither one did himself any favors on the way out the door: Allen sniped with both Danny Ainge and Rivers and made it a political issue, while Doc bickered with Ainge through the media over who was the catalyst for his transaction.
Allen took a savage beating on airwaves playing the tune of "Judas Shuttlesworth." He was booed early and often in his return to the Garden. Rivers, by contrast, escaped relatively unscathed. Even when Bill Simmons checked in from the left coast and said Rivers "quit" on the Celtics, he was promptly dissed by Rivers' son on Twitter and the conversation turned into one about Simmons, not Rivers. One could argue that Ray's departure was the first domino, but the same argument was made about the Kendrick Perkins trade. It's a convenient narrative.
Doc himself had resignation in his voice during that Game 7 press conference in 2012. That team wasn't winning a title. Ray knew it. KG gave him the cold shoulder; perhaps KG wasn't ready to admit it. A similarly cool sentiment was displayed just last night, when Doc reached out to Rajon Rondo. Did Rondo return the embrace? No. The reasons for emotions are deep and diverse. For the fan base to think they know all of the reasons is myopic. Accept it for what it is: The team was getting old and both men got out when they had the opportunity.
I'll remember Ray's role in the 24-point comeback against the Lakers in '08, his assassination of the Bulls' playoff hopes in '09, his eight three-pointers in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals. I'll remember Doc's team philosophy, his Gatorade bath, that emotional press conference following Game 7 in 2012. I will always be a fan of both; Doc Rivers and Ray Allen meant an awful lot this this city while they were here. It would be fitting that both be cheered for their contributions to this proud tradition.
Sean Sylver is a Boston-based writer, radio personality and avid gardener. His work has appeared on Babble's Disney Dads and other pro sports blogs. Follow him on Twitter @sylverfox25.
- Sports & Recreation
- Doc Rivers
- Ray Allen
- Los Angeles Clippers