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Editorial: Doc Rivers was the right man at the right time

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is shown during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is shown during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

What’s the proper way to respond to racism?

Listen to former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is now with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Not just about the controversy involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Listen to him talk about anything. He is thoughtful and honest – whether he’s answering a question about a decision to go for the tie rather than the win or a recording of his boss telling his girlfriend that he doesn’t want her associating with black people.

When you possess a great deal of self awareness, wisdom and strength are attached to every word. If Sterling’s racism has taught us anything, it’s that Rivers is a man who knows who he is.

And it has been a relentless education for Rivers, because racism isn’t a storm that rages and subsides the way it does in the headlines. It is a strong, destructive wind that’s been blowing for a long time.

Back in 1997, somebody who may not have liked that Rivers was black, or that he was married to a white woman, burned down his home in San Antonio. In an interview with the New York Times, Rivers’s oldest son Jeremiah remembered his mother falling to her knees and his grandfather trying to console her after the fire. His father was stoic. A rock.

Rivers has been a rock for his team, too. The Clippers were in the thick of the playoffs when Sterling’s comments were made public, and he needed his team to understand, just as he needed his family to understand in 1997, that you don’t pack it in when the hate and ignorance get too thick.

“That’s adversity that we didn’t want, but we have it,” Rivers said of Sterling’s comments.

From terrorist attacks and natural disasters to the ignorant rantings of a bigot, adversity broadens perspective and reveals character. It strips bare the human qualities of the athletes who so often seem like machines, and it reveals the emotional strength of the booed and prodded. It can also put a basketball coach into a position to teach his young players what a man looks like when he has a strong sense of self, what you sound like when you’ve harnessed your anger. Adversity can put a basketball coach into a position to show his young players how to stand up straight despite the strong, destructive wind that never stops blowing.

What Rivers didn’t want in the wake of Sterling’s comments was for his players to feel the burden of response. He wanted them to process everything, to talk about this latest racial incident and those that came before it, and act as they saw fit. All he wanted from them is that they act in accordance with their own true selves, not the expectations of others.

“The biggest thing with my dad is he’s able to live with the result with whatever he chooses to do,” Rivers’s son Austin told the New York Times. “When you live like that, you don’t have to change who you are, and your emotions stay the same. He does what he feels is right and he lives with the result. You don’t shake or shiver.”

That’s how you respond to racism.

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