Doc Rivers moved to the front.
His players were thrust into a dizzying situation during the playoffs last spring, deciding between boycotting and playing, protesting or proceeding as nothing happened. There was confusion. There was conflict. There was exhaustion.
And, luckily for the Clippers, there was Rivers.
Coaches, players, sales people and front-office staff navigated the Donald Sterling mess with Rivers at the helm, coming out on the other side with a new owner and optimism to spare. And Wednesday, Rivers was rewarded with a hefty new contract.
The team announced Rivers signed a new deal keeping him as coach and president of basketball operations through the 2018-19 season.
The deal will pay Rivers more than $50 million, a figure first reported by Yahoo! Sports. At more than $10 million per year, Rivers is believed to be the highest-paid coach in American professional sports, though he’s also the team’s primary basketball decision maker.
“This is an important day for this organization,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “I am excited to work with Doc for a long time as we build a championship culture that will deliver results both on and off the court. Not only is Doc one of the best coaches and executives in the game, but he continually embodies the hard core, committed and resilient character and winning culture that the Clippers represent. It was one of my top priorities to ensure that he was firmly in place as the long-term leader of this team.”
Ballmer paid a record-breaking $2 billion for the Clippers – the most for any NBA franchise by an enormous margin.
“Steve has shown a clear and determined desire to make the Clippers one of the most elite, first-class and championship organizations in all of professional sports,” Rivers said in a statement. “We know we have work to do to get there, but I am motivated by the challenge and thankful for the opportunity to stand together with Steve as we continue to move toward our goal of winning an NBA title.”
After the Clippers sent a first-round pick to Boston to pry Rivers loose from his contract, the team won a franchise-best 57 games. Rivers, making roster decisions as well as coaching ones, was one of the sport’s true power players.
But in the wake of Sterling’s racist remarks, Rivers found himself catapulted to the head of the organization. He wasn’t just the guy coaching. He wasn’t just the guy making roster decisions. He was the guys speaking – for everyone.
“The credit is not due, honestly. I’m not trying to be this humble guy,” Rivers said earlier this month. “There are so many other people. There's so much more than me, honestly.
“I was the voice of a lot of people, but I was really just the voice of watching other people's actions, you know.”
But that’s not how his players saw it.
The Clippers leaned on Rivers to answer questions, to rehash feelings of confusion and anger and to shield them from as much outside pressure as possible.