Austin Rivers Gets Jersey Retired At Winter Park High School
WINTER PARK, Fla. – Every second counted.
The Clippers snuck out a win Monday night and boarded a plane early Tuesday morning for a nearly five-hour flight from Los Angeles to Orlando in advance of their game Wednesday against the Magic, before many then made the 30-plus minute drive from the airport to Winter Park for Austin Rivers’ jersey retirement at his high school Tuesday night.
With the ceremony happening before a 7:30 p.m. ET high school game tip-off, and the Clippers landing around 6 p.m., any delay could make the timing nearly impossible. And there was a delay.
Upon landing, Rivers and the many coaches and teammates who wanted to show their support swiftly shuffled over to the bus set for Winter Park when, roughly halfway there, the bumpy sounds and rubbery smells of a flat tire began to envelop a bus that wasn’t going to make it on time.
So, they did what anyone would think to do. The Clippers had a mission, and they weren’t going to let Rivers miss this, so the roughly 20 people packed inside the bus on the side of the Florida highway started calling separate Ubers, making sure Rivers and his family were the first ones there.
And by around 7 p.m., just in the nick of time, Rivers and his Clippers supporters arrived to a packed Winter Park gymnasium. Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Raymond Felton and Brice Johnson weaved their way through the crowd, stopping to take pictures and allow Rivers to soak in the moment at a court filled with those who’d been there for Rivers since the beginning of his basketball journey.
“I’m just so appreciative everyone came out tonight,” Rivers said. “I’m very grateful.”
He could breathe a sigh of relief. Rivers made in time, and the Clippers were there. His family was there. His coaches, dearest friends and high school teammates were there, too, as cheers of “AUS-TIN RIV-ERS” reverberated throughout the gymnasium.
“As a dad, it was really cool,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “Obviously, I watched him grow up, and what I loved about it is all his teammates came out. They were so close, they won state titles together. So, that was really neat. As a coach, what I love is the other players all here.”
With many of those other players nearby, Austin’s high school coaches helped introduce him as he walked up to the stage, flanked by his family.
Winter Park’s all-time leader in scoring and steals, the All-American top recruit who led the school to back-to-back state champions before becoming the ACC Rookie of the Year at Duke and making his way to the NBA, was back home in a place he’d never gotten too big for.
Two of his old high school teammates in attendance say Austin hasn’t changed since their days together at Winter Park, even though both of them knew early on how realistic a path the NBA would be.
“He was scoring 30 as a freshman, and we had a tough division playing in the biggest league in Florida,” said James Ferrell, who’d go on to play in college at Rollins. “It was pretty evident he was going to make it.”
“I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind,” added Robert Lovaglio, who’d go on to play at Loyola.
Lovaglio said getting everyone back in the gym brought back plenty of memories.
Austin helped Winter Park to a 109-18 record during his four years with the team, but as his former head coach said, he never let his own personal gain or success overshadow the group’s progress.
“He was happy that he got the individual accolades, but he understood the importance of being a teammate,” said Austin’s high school coach, David Bailey.
What Bailey remembers most was Austin’s growth from freshman to senior year, before ultimately capping his high school career with back-to-back state titles. With Austin’s guidance, Winter Park basketball got on the map.
“We played on national TV a lot,” Bailey said. “It was an experience for a lot of our kids that they’d never get to experience again in their lives.”
Not that Austin is quick to take all the credit.
Austin said the transformation of Winter Park basketball began with his older brother’s class. Then, his class helped take it to another level.
“But, we all changed the program,” Austin said. “We had a great coach and great teammates. The players here…everybody was a part of it.”
And on Tuesday, everybody was a part of Austin’s night.
With the Winter Park gym filled to a brim, the sounds of those cheering Austin’s name on one side of the gym could only be echoed out by his Clippers’ teammates on the other end, as he went to take the microphone.
“I’ve been fortunate to have some of the best teammates I could ask for,” said Austin, who thanked his teammates, friends, family, coaches and old teachers before the high school game tipped off.
Rivers’ No. 25 jersey is just the second jersey to ever get retired at Winter Park.
The first? Austin’s older sister, Callie, for her volleyball prowess helping Winter Park to three state titles, which Austin joked about in a social media post after the event:
“A fun night to remember! Honored to be the second athlete ever to have their jersey retired at my old high school....( the first was my sister )! Very thankful to have great friends, teammates, and family! Now back to the grind so I can have more memorable nights like tonight! #thankful #praiseGod”
With the ceremony done, Austin continued to say hello to old friends and pose for photos, including one he’ll likely hold particularly dear, as members of his high school state title teams and his current Clippers’ teammates all gathered around Austin and his jersey for a group shot.
In that moment, Austin’s former and current worlds collided. And he couldn’t be more thankful to be standing where he was.