A year and a half ago, Austin Rivers gave the uninitiated a peek into the private world he inhabits with his coach/father. It was effective as a strategy to change the perception of him as spoiled, entitled and immature. Perhaps inadvertently, Austin let slip that he and his father’s relationship is basketball only. It doesn’t go past that. No huggy feely moments in the man cave. No hanging out in restaurants or at a church fish fry when they are in town. Strictly coach/player. It felt a little cold and sad, particularly for those of us who don’t have fathers and always wanted one.
The privilege of being Doc Rivers son means Austin is in the NBA on a team his father coaches. Austin can’t escape what everyone thinks and he knows what everyone thinks. If he is trending on Twitter it’s because the son of Doc Rivers can’t get past his gene pool. He is the son of Doc Rivers and is hated for it, not because Doc is a bad guy but because Austin is a privileged guy. It’s that old saying. He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. The perception of Austin is he’s lucky but he acts like he made it the same way everyone else made it. But he didn’t have to be gritty and fearless and overcome odds.
It is incredible privilege to have a father of importance but like many privileges it comes with a price. Austin takes the court and cannot forget for five seconds his father. Because his father is telling him what to do. No one else can forget it either as they punish Austin for his chromosomes and gene pool, as if he choose it, instead of the accidental luck of Austin 25 years ago.
A lot has been said about Chris Paul and Matt Barnes and Big Baby and what they think of their former teammate who admits he is arrogant and edgy and is hard to like. He doesn’t make it easier on himself when players already have built in resentment because they had to do it the hard way without a parent making calls and pulling strings. Austin is often defensive, as he was when talking to Ramona Shelburne about his arrogant image. Arrogance is the currency of NBA players, but it is accepted in the elite. The above average, like Austin, are supposed to be humble. Easier said than done when Doc Rivers is your father.
When Austin says, “Could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?” it reinforces the general dislike of him. It doesn’t help the Austin narrative of lucky and 1%-er and born on third base. Whether he knows it or not, he just admitted he has privileges no one else does and that privilege separates him from his peers. So it is not a level playing field and that alone upsets people. It’s not a fair hand, the deck is stacked against everyone else. Austin claims it is swagger and confidence but confidence is driven from an internal belief in your own ability. Arrogance is when you need to constantly say how great your are and in doing so put other people down. That’s how you sustain your ego.
He did that in the summer of 2015 when he watched young players compete for a place on the Olympic team and he said, “Straight up better than a lot of those dudes playing last night…Have to prove that this year..”
There are so many rules of professionalism and courtesy Rivers tramples all over on like a wild herd of buffalo looking for deer meat. Let’s say it’s true that Austin Rivers was better- and only an inebriated someone with a few too many cold ones swishing around in their blood would agree to that- professional behavior requires he not shout it from the rooftops but rather show it on the court. There is such a thing as humility and grace. The greatest competitors in NBA history, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson knew they were better than almost everyone they were playing against but didn’t stand in Times Square with a sign telling everyone about it. They proved it.
There is a saying: to much is given, much is expected. That much means grace and humility. In his interview with Ramona Shelburne he said, “some people think I’m a great player.” No. Austin thinks he is a great player. No one else does. His game is not equal to Jrue Holiday.
The rest of us think LeBron and Steph and the Greek Freak and Harden are great players. Austin has never been an All-Star, never averaged 20 points a game, has never been consistent. This is the best year of his career playing on a team with above average players, which he is. He is shooting 41.8%, nothing to write home about. But his three ball is wet at 40%, he’s averaging a career high in assists at 3.6 and a career high 15.8 points. His offensive rating is a banal 105 and his defensive rating is awful, 112.
His lateral quickness is good. He plays with intensity and often looks angry. His offense is the problem. He shoots 22% on mid range shots, 20% on long two’s. He can attack the rim and finish using his quickness and drain threes but that’s the sum total of his game after six NBA seasons. He’s been blah for much of his career until this season, despite his imaginary thinking that he’s better than the best the NBA has to offer in USA Basketball.
Rivers is a role player, a decent shot maker, the coach’s son, a Dukie who has yet to establish himself as anything other than a role player on a team of role players. He can play. But he’s not a special player.
In a Rivers backtrack on Twitter in the summer of 2015 he said, “Didn’t really mean it that way…I worded it wrong..it was me just being competitive and wanting to be out there…”
He words a lot of things wrong and then people get offended and then he gets mad that they are offended. His emotional maturity is a work in progress just as his game is starting to take off. He has a habit of elevating himself by putting other people down.
A lot of the time Austin Rivers sounds jealous; he wants to be liked, perhaps adored. But he’s not good enough for NBA fans and teammates to disregard his character flaws. Arrogance and cockiness is not something to brag about it. It legitimizes immaturity.
Three people drafted before Austin in the 2012 draft are better than he is and two have been All-Stars: Anthony Davis, and Damian Lillard. (Bradley Beal is on track to be an All-Star this year). None of them, Davis, Lillard, Beal, have fathers coaching them in the NBA and at the same time none of them have unlikeable traits, a cockiness they really haven’t earned. They have the right to be arrogant and cocky like Austin Rivers. But they aren’t.
One day Austin will realize he is not doing himself any favors. His NBA game may grow even more than it has this year. He is only 25. He will grow up, too. It happens to everyone. If Austin had told Ramona Shelburne, “people hate me but they don’t really know me”, that would be one thing. We are all guilty of making rash judgments. The problem is people dislike Austin who do know him, who have been his teammates. He’ll learn the NBA is like every other business on earth. It’s basketball but it is also about getting along with people. People who are liked get the benefit of the doubt over and over again. They have nine lives.
But at the end of the day, when Doc is your father, it may just not matter. You have the inside track. You are lucky. Not better. Lucky. Not better. Lucky.