Posted Nov 25 2010 11:11AM
Doc Rivers has coached some of the greats. Tracy McGrady. Grant Hill. Shaquille O'Neal. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, the Big Three of the Celtics.
He never coached his second-youngest son, now a senior at Winter Park High School right outside Orlando, though. Rivers says Austin became the No. 1-rated recruit on his own and with help from other coaches, from age-group ball on up, and will get additional tips next year from Mike Krzyzewski, one of the best ever, when he suits up for Duke.
But father and son talk, you know. And basketball comes up, you know. And the son is a carbon copy of the father: bright, basketball-smart, strategic and likable, you know. So maybe the father never really coached his son; that much is probably true. What Austin got, and continues to get, is something greater: A father who can relate.
Earlier this year, Austin said: "You know, he's just my dad. It's a pretty normal father-son relationship. But we love to talk basketball."
Nights when they're away from each other, which is often here in the NBA season with the father in Boston and son in Orlando, the father's cell phone will ring. And the son will discuss his favorite players and say:
"You see what Chris Paul did?"
"And D-Wade, know what he did tonight?"
The father says there's also healthy discussion about school, movies, places to eat. What basketball does is add to the mix and keep the phone call going past midnight. It applies additional glue to the bond that brings father and son together.
"You know when you're a teenager you really don't even want to talk to your parents anymore," Doc said, with a laugh. "So basketball does give you a conversation piece. While the bond my wife and I have with all of our kids is away from basketball, it helps."
And bonding is important in this unique situation, where the father works wherever the NBA schedule takes him while the son is rooted in Florida. Here on Thanksgiving, the most sacred family day of the year, basketball does help magnetize their lives and make it as normal as possible. Doc also has a son, Jeremiah, a senior playing at Indiana; a daughter, Callie, also a senior who was just named Southeastern Conference volleyball player of the week at Florida; and Spencer, a freshman at Winter Park.
Austin, at 6-feet-4 and capable of playing either guard position, may turn out the most athletically accomplished. As a kid he tagged along with his father to watch Jeremiah and always asked questions. Then he gravitated to the game his father played for 13 years in the NBA and found his calling. Lucky for Austin, a reservoir of basketball lived under the same roof.
"When he wanted to get some shots in the gym, I was more of a rebounder for him," Doc Rivers said. "You always suggest things here and there but I always tried to do as little as possible. I never pushed him or any of my kids. You guide them. I just let them do whatever they wanted. Early on with Austin, you had a clue he could be this special. He took it from there."
Austin draws raves from the scouting services for his high basketball IQ and a skill set that makes him seem a lot older. He brings an ankle-breaking crossover dribble, deep shooting range and a wide-angle view of the floor. He tore up the competition at an AAU tournament last summer, and later pledged himself to Duke, reversing an earlier verbal commitment to Florida. He's taking a 1,981-point career scoring total into his senior season, which is just underway.
Doc Rivers weighed whether to return to the Celtics this season, mainly from an urge to see Austin and his other children perform, until they convinced him to return. And so life for the Celtics coach is a constant blur of airports. Off-days are spent flying back and forth to games whenever possible. He figures he'll see Austin 10 times this season.
Rivers said: "It's not the best way, but it's the only way. If they play and I'm off, I'm there."
This situation isn't unique only to Rivers. Other NBA coaches learned to be a father from afar: George Karl and son Koby, Mike Dunleavy and Mike Jr., to name a recent few. And those two coaches had the gratification of watching their sons reach the NBA.
Which raises the obvious question for Rivers: Would he want to finally coach Austin one day? Does he harbor those dreams?
"I harbor dreams that he makes it to the league," Rivers said. "But coaching him? That'd be tough. Because I have to live with his mom. She runs the household. If I didn't play him one day, I'd have to go home to his mother. And that would be no fun at all."
He laughs, in a way that lets you know that coaching his son would be an absolute blast. And the conversations they'd have. Imagine those.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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