Ty Lue owes Doc Rivers his coaching career.
The two first connected in Orlando in 2003, when Lue played for Rivers for 11 games before the coach was fired. That created a lasting relationship, and when Lue went into coaching in 2011 after retirement, Rivers had a spot for him on his staff.
“Doc has been my mentor since I’ve been in the league and coaching, and he gave me my first opportunity, so without Doc, I wouldn’t be in this position today,” Lue said at his introductory press conference.
The pair stayed together for two years with the Celtics and made the move together to Los Angeles in 2013. Lue left for a promotion to lead assistant with the Cavaliers in 2014, ultimately earning the head coach job in 2016, but the bond remained. When Lue was fired by Cleveland early in the 2018-19 season, the Clippers brought him in to consult the team informally. He anticipated getting another role as a head coach in 2019-20, but was happy to return as Rivers’ assistant when that opportunity didn’t materialize.
As Lue put it, this was his chance to give back to his mentor after all Rivers had done for him.
“Doc reached out to me once the Clippers signed Kawhi and PG, he kind of wanted me to come back and be with him and learn under him some more and help him out in the best way I could,” Lue said Wednesday. “It felt good, you know, to be under Doc, and Doc, you know, let me go to Cleveland to win a championship, go to three straight finals and, you know, come back now, I can help my mentor out.”
With all that history, it was hard for Lue to immediately step into this new role as Clippers head coach, considering who he was replacing. He told Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s The Jump that he wouldn’t have felt comfortable taking the job if Rivers hadn’t explicitly given him permission. As expected, though, Rivers was overjoyed for his protege to get the opportunity.
“It was tough, even when people that you compete against that you really don’t like, when they get fired it’s tough, but you never want to see anyone lose their job,” Lue told Nichols. “I couldn’t have taken this job without Doc’s blessings. When the Clippers reached out, I made sure I talked to Doc just to see how he felt about it. He said, “Ty, you absolutely have to do it, if you don’t take it, somebody else will.’ He said, ‘If I wanted anyone to have the job, it would be you, Ty.”
We know how the story ends. Lue took the job. Now he’ll have the chance to compete against his mentor again and show what he learned from Rivers in their latest stint together.