Doc Rivers finished answering the final question from the crowd of reporters, then closed his press conference with a touching tribute to Tennessee women’s basketball head coach Pat Summitt, who retired Wednesday after being diagnosed last year with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Coaching obviously means a lot to Rivers, and to see someone he respects, someone he called a “giant” of the women’s game, someone who is largely responsible for the success women’s basketball has reached in the past decade, have coaching taken away from her brought Rivers to tears. He needed to choke back his emotion as he sent an unsolicited word of support to Summitt.
“I want to finish with Pat Summitt,” he said through tears. “Retired. She’s a neat lady. I got to know her a little bit, and I just think it’s sad, in a lot of ways. Not basketball, but everything. I didn’t want to get emotional; I’m an emotional person. And when you see a giant like that leave the game — and leave the game because of health — it’s just said.
“But she is responsible for women’s basketball. She is not just a women’s basketball coach, she’s a great coach. I’m in this, and the longer I’m in this I just realize how much coaching means to all of us. You think about it today: Pat Summitt is retiring at her age, and Larry Brown is taking a job at his age. And it just tells you how much it’s in your blood and how much you love it. And for her not to be able to do it, for me is very sad.”
Think back to the time when Rivers contemplated early retirement, or at the very least a leave from the Celtics. He clearly pondered life after basketball, life spent vacationing with his family and taking in his children’s sporting events and waking up to eat a late, leisurely brunch with his wife. Rivers is very much a family man, so all of that appealed to him. But somewhere amid all the pondering, he realized what losing basketball would mean. He decided to sign a long-term deal for another five years with the Celtics, not as a sign that he dislikes his family, not at all, but just because he couldn’t say goodbye to life on the bench.
To see Summitt have the game taken away from her too early strikes a chord in Doc, especially since it’s because of a health issue Summitt will have to deal with for the rest of her life. Say some prayers for Summitt and anyone else dealing with Alzheimer’s. The basketball world lost a legend Wednesday.