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Column: Doc Rivers waits until after Clippers’ win to express outrage over Jacob Blake shooting

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talks with guard Lou Williams.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talks with guard Lou Williams in the first half against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Clippers coach Doc Rivers bottled up his emotions for a while, knowing that if he had allowed himself to speak before Tuesday’s game about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., the latest tragedy to befall a Black man in a confrontation with police, Rivers couldn’t trust himself to stay calm enough to do the job that had to be done.

Rivers had to lead the Clippers out of the emotional funk that had trapped them two days earlier, when they became spectators to the Luka Doncic show and allowed the Dallas Mavericks to quash their game and their spirits, and to do that he had to put the team’s interests before his own unquenchable concerns about social injustice.

And so this son of a cop, a Black man who has lived the everyday indignities of racism, a man who had to tell his own children to be sure to be respectful around police officers, did his job on Tuesday. He did it well. So did his players, controlling their emotions perfectly in a 154-111 rout of Dallas that put the Clippers in position to close out the series on Thursday and advance to the second round.

“Our jobs are basketball players, fathers, we’re businessmen and we should still be able to do our jobs, but it’s hard sometimes. Today was hard. It really was. For every team,” Rivers said in a postgame video interview. “We can’t stop doing our jobs because it’s what we do. It allows us three hours of solitude.… We can get into our jobs and forget what’s going on.”

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The NBA playoff bubble in Florida has kept players and coaches safe from COVID-19 but it has also made them feel uncomfortably confined. Paul George said the strangeness of not having fans and energy in the arenas had contributed to putting him in “a dark place,” on the court and off, and although he shook off his shooting woes with a 12-for-18 performance and 35 points on Tuesday, it took an extraordinary effort and unwavering support from his coaches and teammates to get him back to his old self.

The bubble hasn’t kept the outside world from intruding and hasn’t kept injustice from heating their hearts and souls. Rivers, asked after Tuesday’s game to share his thoughts on Blake’s predicament and the impact of experiencing yet another horrifying scene playing out across the country and the world, couldn’t hold back any longer.

“It’s just so hard to keep watching it,” he said. “You don’t need to be Black to be outraged. You need to be American and outraged.”

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His rage was amplified by seeing scenes from the Republican convention, he said. “They’re spewing this fear. All you hear from Donald Trump and all of them taking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones denied to live in certain communities,” he said, becoming visibly distraught as he continued. “We’ve been hung, we’ve been shot and all you keep hearing is that fear. It’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back. It’s just so sad.”

“My dad was a cop. I believe in good cops. We’re not trying to defund the cops and take their money away. We’re trying to get them to protect us…. All we’re asking is you live up to the Constitution. That’s all we’re asking. For everyone.”

Fred Van Vleet and Norman Powell of the defending champion Toronto Raptors had mentioned earlier Tuesday they were considering boycotting games in protest of the shooting that left Blake paralyzed after taking at least seven shots to his body. Rivers said boycotting wasn’t the right answer, but he will listen to his players’ thoughts.

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“I think you always play,” said Rivers, who in 2014 deftly steered the team through the controversy stirred by former owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments. “You can fight for justice, but we still can do our jobs. People are seeing excellence from black and white Americans. But if my players told me no, it would be no.”

Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo claimed his first piece of hardware this season, winning the league’s defensive player of the year award.

George said he had seen the video of Blake’s shooting shortly before he participated in postgame interviews.
“All we got is hope,” he said. “We’re asking for hope. For a lot of Black Americans, we’re hoping to see the next day. Hope is the biggest part of all this.”

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The Clippers controlled their emotions well on the court Tuesday, ripping off a couple of dominant early runs and defiantly halting a second-quarter surge by the Mavericks that trimmed the Clippers’ lead to 16. While Doncic struggled on a bad ankle and complained about calls, the Clippers set a franchise playoff record for points in a game and showed resilience and pushback they had lacked in Game 4.

“We did things well today. We played together, we played hard, we were aggressive,” Rivers said. “We had so few game plan mistakes that I thought it was awesome.”

This was the team they thought they could be, the one with championship aspirations. They hadn’t lost their voice but they found their identity again.

Elliott reported from Los Angeles.


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