By DAN GELSTON – AP Sportswriter
CHARLESTON, SC (AP) — Doc Rivers is comfortable using his platform as an NBA coach to fight bigotry and racial injustice, campaign for politicians he believes in and advocate for social change on themes ranging from poverty to police brutality.
Sometimes his speeches sound like they were delivered by someone running for office. Could Rivers, 60, the son of a Chicago police officer, ever become a politician?
“Oh my God, no. I wouldn’t win, number one,” Rivers said. “And number two, that’s not what I want to be.”
Rivers is okay with wading through political waters — and the older he gets and the more he learns about modern issues and black history with deep meaning to him, the more he speaks out. At Donald Trump’s. To police misconduct. To the horrors of racism that followed him all his life. The idea that, even as a coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, it can still be difficult to find your place as a black man in America.
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“When you hear ‘America First,’ it scares me, because I’m a black man and that doesn’t include me,” Rivers said last week in an interview with The Associated Press. “I want us all to be included. I want us all to work with each other.
Rivers became an agent of change in the NBA and found his voice as an activist, trying to contribute perhaps more to the league than he already did, first as an All-Guard. Star then with a coaching career that includes the 2008 championship with Boston and a spot this year on the list of the 15 greatest coaches in NBA history. That awareness starts at home — or perhaps, for that matter, on the road — where Rivers has used boot camp not just as the usual time to rehash the Xs and O’s, but as a history lesson. daily. The Sixers trained at the Citadel, the military college where tanks, jets and plaques dedicated to POWs dot the campus, an education that’s part of Rivers’ plan to bring more out of camp than basketball. .
“It’s all good for us,” Rivers said.
The Sixers typically hold camp at their New Jersey compound, but Rivers wanted to strengthen team bonds with a road trip. The Sixers got together last week for team dinners, played card and video games and had serious conversations, the type of day-to-day activities largely abandoned the past two seasons due to COVID protocols. -19.
“When you have camp at home, you don’t understand that,” Rivers said. “They go home at the end of practice and they don’t spend time together.”
Rivers was on guard with the Knicks in the early 1990s when the team held camp at the College of Charleston. At the time, coach Pat Riley walked the players from the team hotel to the arena.
The 76ers stuck with the team bus last week.
Rivers and the Sixers arranged field trips to the Old Slave Mart Museum, often staffed by people who trace their history to slaves in Charleston, and the Avery Institute of African American History and Culture. Citadel President General Glenn Walters and retired professor and historian Bernard Powers both addressed the team.
“My people, my African people who come here, the people who gave their lives so that we could be in this position, it was good to learn all that,” said center Joel Embiid, who was born in Cameroon and is recently become a US citizen.
Powers said over the phone that he spoke to the Sixers at their team hotel about topics including Charleston’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, the 1739 slave revolt and the descendants of slaves known as of Gullah, who live in a small island. communities scattered over 425 miles (684 kilometers) of the South Atlantic coast of the United States.
“It was the port where a disproportionate number of Africans were brought here,” Powers said. “This place, more than any other, could most likely be a source of their ancestry. Maybe they could think of having a personal connection to this place.
Rivers believed the experiments resonated with a squad made up of twenty-somethings all the way to veterans on the coaching staff.
“The teaching of American history is being attacked right now. And it’s not black history or the teaching of slavery, it’s American history,” a Rivers said. “And so I was amazed. The first thing I was told the other day was how many players, and not just players, coaches, came to see me and told me. said, “Wow, I was never taught that in my history class.”
Rivers referenced learning about shameful historical chapters such as the Tulsa Race Massacre as an adult rather than learning about white mobs at school as one of the reasons he did pressure for more black history to be taught in all schools.
“You should know your story. You really should,” Rivers said. “Could you imagine if we weren’t taught the history of Germany and the Holocaust? There really is no difference. I want to make sure we’re taught the same story.
History matters, but it’s today’s headlines that confuse Rivers.
Before taking questions from reporters after Wednesday’s practice at the Citadel, Rivers spoke about the death of a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the chest near a northern high school sports field. -West Philadelphia. The shooting happened hours after Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order banning firearms and lethal weapons from indoor and outdoor recreation spaces in the city, including parks, basketball courts and swimming pools. .
Rivers, as he has in the past, called for tougher gun laws.
“Obviously if anybody knew the answer, we would try to find the answer there, you know, other than getting the guns off the streets,” Rivers told reporters. “But it’s too political. So we have to understand it.
Rivers mentioned a few times during his interview with the AP that he didn’t want to get “too political,” but that matters of state mattered to him. He was asked ahead of the 2020 election to speak at a Joe Biden rally after the Democratic presidential candidate used Rivers’ words on the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in his own speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, calling for racial unity. Rivers later denounced the tumultuous Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, though he said at the time that “democracy will prevail.”
“I was not” political, Rivers said. “I have always been sensitive to politics, I have always been involved. But what got me involved is that we have this race separation now, of pitting races against each other.
Rivers serves on the board of the NBA Social Justice Coalition. The advocacy organization called on members of Congress to support an executive order aimed at improving the accountability of police departments. Rivers was in Washington when Biden signed the order on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. The order was meant to reflect the challenges of addressing racism, excessive use of force and public safety when Congress deadlocks on tougher measures.
“I think we need police reform,” Rivers said. “Our training needs to be better. What bothers me is that everyone should want this, including the police.
The Sixers coach said NBA players today are more politically aware and involved in societal change than when he played in the 1980s and 1990s, but he wanted more wealthy players, in especially those with millions of social media followers, are speaking out on the prickly stream. events. Rivers spoke to the Sixers about the power to vote — the NBA this season has no scheduled games for Election Day Nov. 8 — but won’t force its players to vote.
But he can make them listen.
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