Made in Maywood
The following article is based off the script for the first installment in the 76ers Podcast Network's Black History Month Inspirations mini-series of the same name.
On a good day, you can get from Chicago to Maywood, Illinois in about 15 minutes - just a straight shot west from the Windy City on I-290.
In a town less than 3 square miles in size, Maywood has 17 homes on the National Register of Historic Places.
As stately and debonair as the above video makes Maywood sound, the town would begin to undergo dramatic change a half century following its founding.
Maywood was used as a base for the Illinois National Guard during the second world war. More than half the soldiers trained there never returned.
And in the 1960s, like in so many other places around the country, racial tensions in Maywood reached an inflection point.
In the late 1960s, life was still relatively new for Doc Rivers.
Rivers was born in 1961, and when race riots erupted towards the end of the decade, he remembers his developing mind being mostly consumed by thoughts of basketball.
Rivers wasn't just obsessed with hoops - he was obsessed with a specific team, and a specific player on that team.
"Jim Brewer," Rivers said. "He was from Maywood. Proviso East now has [multiple] NBA players, but Jim Brewer was the first. That was my dad's brother."
"I watched every game he played in high school. I was a second grader, third grader, i didn't miss a game - i didn't miss one of his high school basketball games from the time he was a sophomore to when he was a senior and won states."
Brewer was, as Rivers put it, "a tough guy," a defensive player. More than anything, Brewer was a worker.
"I'd go over to my grandmother's house - we called him Papa Brewer - he was out in the backyard playing, or at the parks playing. I would go ride my bike and watch him play at the parks."
Brewer's focus left a lasting impression.
"I watched him work," said Rivers. "I watched him in high school, I watched him go to the University of Minnesota. He was the second pick in the draft. Doug Collins was the first pick and went to the Sixers. Jim Brewer went [no. 2] to the Cavaliers. I saw that happen and I knew [I] could make it. It's funny, in my journey I never thought I couldn't make it because I saw Jim Brewer make it. That was a pivotal reason why I made it."
Even though there was a 10-year age gap between the two, Rivers and Brewer remained close after Brewer went pro.
Rivers would stay with his uncle from time to time when he was still in school. For a budding hoops head, the chance to train with NBA players was priceless.
"I'm in sixth grade and I'm working out with Austin Carr, which for me was normal," said Rivers, referring to the former Cleveland All-Star who became known as "Mr. Cavalier." "Now when I look back, that's abnormal. You don't get a chance to do that very often."
For as much as Brewer inspired Rivers' aspirations on the court, Rivers over time also came to a far more powerful realization:
While he was soaking in every shot, rebound, and victory of his uncle's renowned high school career at Proviso East, there were bigger forces at work.
"In the 1960s, when they won the state championship of Illinois, it was also the same year of the race riots of Proviso East in Maywood," Rivers said. "They brought in different speakers, nothing could stop it.
"Then Proviso East goes down state and wins the state title, and that's what stopped the riot. It also showed me the power of sports and basketball. Jim Brewer, the fact that he was my uncle and in my community, showed me that I could do what he could do."
Back in Maywood in the 1960s, there was a store that became a gathering place for residents and passersby alike.
"It was called Nationtime Record Mart, and it was the first Black-owned record store in Chicago," said Doc Rivers.
He would know. He worked there.
"It was back in the day with albums and 45s where you had customers come in and not know the name of songs. You had to put the song on, play it, get it wrong, keep guessing until you found it, give it to them in an album sleeve and then walk off."
Nationtime wasn't just the first Black-owned record store in Chicago. It was owned by Grady Rivers, Doc's father.
"For me, it gave me a musical background that you couldn't get in a school," Rivers said. "Everyday there was different music, different genres. You learned it all. It also allowed you to meet everyone, because everyone would come in and socialize and hang out in the record store because we'd play live music or on the speakers. Back then, you couldn't get that at many places."
Listen to the Black History Month Inspirations mini-series from the 76ers Podcast Network
Record-store owner was just one of the many hats Grady Rivers wore.
"He was also the baseball coach, the football coach, the basketball coach," said Rivers. "He was the therapist for the town."
First and foremost, Grady Rivers was a Chicago policeman.
"I can't tell you how many times I came home from school and there was a mom and some child sitting on our couch and my dad giving them counseling on what they need to do to not get in trouble and move on in life," Rivers said.
Grady Rivers wasn't just a policeman. He was a community policeman. He cared and looked out for others - not because it was his job, but because that was the type of person who he was at his core.
"My dad had this thing about saying 'hi' to everybody even if they don't speak back," said Rivers. "I do it. I've learned it. My kids used to laugh at me.
"You speak to everybody. [When] I'm walking by a human being, I speak to them, let them know you're alive, show them by saying, 'Hello.' It's love.
"My dad was a big believer in communication, and he was very consistent as a person. Those are probably the traits I learned from him the most."
For as much as Jim Brewer was a star in the Maywood community, Grady Rivers was a town pillar.
While Rivers always seemed to have time for others, he was also there for his two sons.
"My dad communicated directly, he was a big reader," Doc Rivers said. "I think I've heard every saying, verse in the universe because of that. One of my dad's big things was 'finish the race.' He always told me, 'Finish the race.' It doesn't matter where you start. When you're in the middle of the race and you get the lead, that's the worst place to be sometimes because you look back, or slow down, or want to celebrate, or when you fall you have to get up. My dad's whole thing is it doesn't matter if you're leading or behind. Run hard, run through the finish line and finish the race."
From an early age, Doc Rivers understood the perilous nature of his dad's profession. It was hard on him..
"I think the anxiety for me with my dad being the police officer was they have the three shifts. The midnight shift - that 12 AM -8 AM as a little child - I couldn't stand when he worked that shift. I was worried. I couldn't sleep well knowing he was out at night. For every kid, the night time is the toughest time. My dad was out of the house and gone for three or four months a year for that time period and shift. That's when the anxiety hit for me."
Rivers was subsequently relieved when his father retired from the force.
"I felt like I made it to the NBA and I could help him retire as well. But he didn't stop doing all the other stuff. When he retired, he still held the same thing in the community, and this is why community policing to me is so important. Everyone knew my dad. Everyone still came to him for help, and so the good news was he wasn't out chasing criminals anymore. He was just helping people. I thought his work after he retired from the police was even grander. He could do it more, do it more full time, and I thought it was great for our home town."
In November 2007, just one game into Doc Rivers' fourth season as head coach of the Boston Celtics, Grady Rivers passed away.
Later that year, the Celtics won their most recent title. Since then, Rivers has gone on to become one of the most successful coaches in NBA history and respected voices in all of sports.
He carries the memory and inspiration of his dad close.
"My dad died before Barack Obama became president. He was a big reader and believed in everything. He also had this one saying: 'Boy, you could be anything in life except for President.' When Barack won, me and my brother actually got on the phone and the first thing we thought of was, 'Man, Dad should be here right now. Dad would be so happy, he would be so proud.'
"For me, as far as the things I've been involved in it's all from my dad and my mom. They always told us to stay involved. I think growing up in Chicago, it's such a political city that it's probably natural. It's definitely due to my dad that you try to speak your truths as much as possible."
It's a mindset and way of life that Rivers has owned.
He's earned the praise of players, peers, executives - even leaders far beyond the NBA - for his courage to speak up and speak out.
"I just do. I do think there are things we should do. Honestly I get that right, sometimes I don't. I'm a human being."
During the home stretch of the 2020 United States presidential election campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden quoted Rivers' impassioned remarks from August in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
"Obviously when you're sitting at home and you listen to Joe Biden and he mentions your name, it brings pride and makes you proud," said Rivers. "I don't do it for that. I do it because I think it's the right thing to do.
"I want this to be a great place. I want everybody to be equal, and have an equal opportunity. I want people who have an equal opportunity to understand giving someone else an equal opportunity isn't taking anything from you - it's just giving everyone the same opportunities you've had. I think that's important for people to know so they don't feel threatened. I don't think anyone's trying to take anything. I think they want the same thing everyone gets."