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Introduction to Unstatable, a Clippers Newsletter: On Austin and Doc Rivers

Excerpted below is the basketball section of Clips Nation podcaster Louis Keene’s latest newsletter, focusing on the Austin Rivers-Doc Rivers relationship.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Unstatable is a weekly newsletter on the 2019-20 Clippers season created by friend of the program Louis Keene, co-host of Clips Nation’s Same Old Clippers podcast. Each week, he chooses one topic — such as load management, or Kawhi playing against his old teams, or a memory from seasons past — and considers it in depth. Today’s Unstatable, which we are excerpting on the site, contextualized last week’s touching father-son moment between Doc and Austin Rivers in several years of Clipper absurdity.

We hope you enjoy it, and if you do, that you’ll subscribe.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will share the floor for the first time tomorrow (today), and thus begin to settle the matter of who can look more thoroughly unmoved by eviscerating NBA competition. Last night, George drilled a three pointer to beat his old team and you would have thought someone just showed him the High Hopes dance. It’s on Kawhi now to get 25 in the opening frame and spend the final three reading HBR on the bench. Only five more months til these two empty the chamber.

In the meantime, if the Clippers can be counted on for one thing, it’s an annual spectacle whose sheer emotional velocity immediately warrants THIS LEAGUE treatment and blows the bloody doors off the fortress of NBA canon. Honestly, it should come as no surprise that the same franchise that brought us the DeAndre Jordan Kidnapping and the Chris Paul Tunnel Marauding should employ a coach whose meltdown and subsequent ejection could be savored — if not altogether orchestrated — in real time by his son on the other team. The referees screwed up, Doc Rivers popped a blood vessel, and Austin Rivers sent him to the showers.

The relationship between Doc Rivers and Austin Rivers has drawn scrutiny ever since Doc traded a first-round pick for his son at a point early in Austin’s career when he was incapable of dribbling and not falling over at the same time. Dad proceeded to play his son over more established veterans, setting off fans and, according to various reports over the years, his own locker room. While Doc was vindicated by about the third year of this project, the team never recovered from the cynicism its core players developed from Austin’s arrival. (To be fair, Austin really couldn’t dribble without falling over at first.)

Credit Austin for emerging from all this, and one year of a Duke education, as not only a useful NBA player and a stylistically amusing one, but also as a pretty chill dude. He plays his ass off, gives reliably great quotes, and doesn’t bluff. Also, during an era that many Clipper fans will remember for teams that lost heart, he was the only player whose belief was never in question. After nearly carrying a shorthanded Clipper team to a comeback win a few postseasons ago, Austin, with eleven stitches on an eye that had swollen shut, told reporters:

Doc] doesn’t really share his life outside of basketball with me. He and I don’t know each other like that. We know each other as strictly basketball. A lot of people on the outside don’t understand that because people think we have a relationship like every other father and son. We just don’t. That’s because he’s been gone my whole life, and that’s fine.

It’s worked out for the both of us.

Recently I asked Doc about the advice he would give to his players who are also new parents. He said he would tell them, “Do your job. Do your job, because that’s how you’ll be able to provide for them.” That was before this happened:

What the Clipper drama has in common — the DAJ free agency, the locker room invasion, Blake Griffin punching a team trainer who was also his bro, Griffin snubbing Steve Ballmer and then ludicrously denying it to our guy Jovan Buha, and Austin Rivers exulting in his father’s ejection — is a degree of hyperreality that can only be achieved in a family setting. For better and for worse, the Lob City squads were uncommonly familial. DeAndre became a Clipper when he was 19, was given his first real opportunity by Rivers, and was best friends with Griffin (drafted at 20), before Chris Paul arrived. Then they spent five years thriving together, failing together, and ultimately getting sick of each other. Inseparable, dysfunctional, and preposterously volatile, their smallest conflicts inevitably became monumental.

At least this iteration has a happy ending. Here’s Austin in the locker room after the game:

I knew it was coming. I seen that look before, many times. Once he starts blinking his eyes fast. Listen guys, I don’t like to escalate anything, I’ve always been a peacemaker. Doc’s just gotta keep his cool.

I love him. It was a really good moment though. I enjoyed it a lot, I’m not going to lie to you. I really did enjoy that. It was fun.

It’s refreshing, of course. Today’s NBA players are highly trained communicators whose banal faux-humilities (and real humilities) are so commonplace that they no longer even register. Only the Clippers have managed to defy the routine; what’s more, they have done it on a schedule. Delivering absolute scenes of apoplexy-turned-farce seemingly plucked from Philip Roth, this Very Professional Sports Operation has a way of asserting itself totally — as art, as life, as the full range of human experience. For that much, they don’t even make us wait until the All-Star break.”

Thanks for reading! Subscribe to the Unstatable here, and be on the lookout for the next episode of Same Old Clippers with myself and Louis!