Rivers Family Preps for Memorable Matchup

WALTHAM, Mass. – Every human being who walks on this Earth has a slew of memories that they will never forget. Doc Rivers and his son, Austin Rivers, will have shared two of those moments in just seven months’ time once Wednesday night comes to an end.

Austin Rivers fulfilled his dream of playing in the NBA back on June 28th when the New Orleans Hornets selected him with the 10th pick of the 2012 Draft. Doc was by Austin’s side that night, along with the rest of the Rivers family, to share an incredible moment with his then-19-year-old son.

Austin, Doc

Doc Rivers was by his son's side on draft night, and now he'll be on the opposite sideline Wednesday night.
NBAE/Getty Images

Doc was visibly emotional after hearing his son’s name called by NBA commissioner David Stern. The proud father then watched Austin put on a Hornets hat and walk across the Prudential Center stage in Newark, N.J., as an NBA lottery pick.

Doc and Austin will never forget that night. A father who had watched his son grow from a baby into a man had now seen that man become his peer in the most prestigious basketball league in existence.

“It’s your son, and I’ve watched him in the back yard. We built the sport cart, and I’ve watched him work for hours and hours,” Doc told TNT’s Craig Sager shortly after Austin was selected. “He would go in and watch half the game, then go out and try to imitate moves. And now he’s in a league that I’m in, and that I’m going to be able to coach against him, which will be a lot of fun.”

That’s what everyone believed when they were in the moment back in June. The first NBA meeting between Doc and Austin was supposed to be fun. Now that we’re on the eve of that historical meeting between father and son, Doc is having second thoughts about how fun this will actually be.

The showdown will take place when the Celtics and Hornets meet at 8 p.m. Wednesday night in TD Garden. It will be the first time in either Doc or Austin’s lives that they will face each other in a game that really matters.

Reality has hit Doc like a ton of bricks. He is recognizing the fact that must finally look at Austin as an opponent, and he doesn’t seem particularly fond of that task.

“I’m actually not,” Doc said on Tuesday after being asked if he is looking forward to Wednesday’s game. “I don’t even know what I’m looking forward to. It’s not like he’s playing a ton anyway, but you never know. As far as him and being on the floor, that’s just a different feeling. I still don’t know how to feel about it.”

That last comment seems to be very true based on Doc’s demeanor on Tuesday. He went back and forth between talking about Austin as an opponent and Austin as a son. He wants the Celtics to win the game, but he doesn’t want to watch Austin struggle. Doc seemed to be confused and conflicted about how he is supposed to feel as he ran through those scenarios in his head.

Luckily for Boston’s head coach, he has been around this league for a long, long time. Twenty-nine years of service has resulted in a long list of friends who are there for him with words of advice that pertain to almost any situation imaginable, including this one.

Two friends who can give Doc legitimate advice about coaching against a son in the NBA for the very first time are Mike Dunleavy and George Karl. Both of them have coached against their sons, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Coby Karl, respectively, in NBA games.

“I saw Mike this summer on the golf course and we had a quick talk about it. George and I talk to more just as a coach and a friend,” Doc said. “It’s funny, he said the same thing. He said he really didn’t enjoy it. He didn’t like it.”

Karl’s displeasure and Doc’s current state of confusion are both products of a tidal wave of feelings.

“It’s just hard,” Doc said, “because you want to beat him and then you want him to do (well). It’s just a lot of mixed emotions.”

Believe it or not, Wednesday’s situation is even more emotional than the ones that the Dunleavys and Karls have experienced.

Hornets head coach Monty Williams is caught in the middle of being one of Doc’s closest friends and coaching one of his highly touted rookies, Austin. That’s not easy. To throw even more fuel on the fire, Austin is the only son out of the previously mentioned father-son relationships who was drafted with sky-high expectations and has struggled mightily in his rookie season.

Austin has played so poorly that Williams has essentially taken the 10th overall pick out of the rotation. Austin has played just nine total minutes in New Orleans’ last two games and he is shooting just 32.9 percent from the field this season. Those facts have resulted in a much more emotional and complex meeting than anyone anticipated back in June.

“This is hard, though, in some ways,” Doc said of the dynamic between Williams, his son and himself. “You can’t overthink it, either. At the end of the day, just coach him, and I’m just going to parent him.”

Doc is going to coach against Austin Wednesday night but he won’t lose sight of the parental side of this relationship. Doc loves his son dearly, and that love will remain forever, even if Austin is trying to deposit a tally in his father’s career loss column.

“He’s going to be my son during the game, after the game, before the game,” Doc said. “None of that’s going to change.”

That may be the case, but it doesn’t make Wednesday night’s meeting any easier. The Rivers’ memories from draft night will always be remembered with smiles and tears of joy. Wednesday night’s game will produce another unforgettable night of memories for Doc, Austin and the Rivers family, but these memories will be much more complicated.

As Doc put it, “You don’t think about that part until he gets drafted and then you think, ‘Wow. I’m going to go up against my son.’

“Tomorrow I’ll be glad when the game is over. I can put it that way.”