Doc Rivers and Austin Rivers will have a tough challenge when their respective teams face off.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
New Orleans Hornets rookie guard
Austin Rivers has struggled lately. His father will offer some advice.
That is, after Wednesday’s game in Boston.
“I will let him know at dinner after the game,’’ Doc Rivers said with a laugh.
Rivers is the Celtics’ coach. And he’s about to face his son in a game for the first time.
It will mark just the fourth time a coaching father has met his playing son in an NBA game. New Orleans Jazz coach Butch van Breda Kolff faced New Jersey Nets forward Jan van Breda Kolff in 1976-77.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. went against Golden State and Indiana forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. 21 times between 2003-10. And Denver Nuggets coach George Karl ran into Los Angeles Lakers guard Coby Karl during the 2007-08 regular season and once that year in the playoffs.
Doc Rivers had been planning to call George Karl to get some advice. After all, this is a foreign experience for him.
“It will be difficult,’’ he said. “How to you cheer against your son? It’s going to be an interesting dynamic. As a dad, for the first time ever you don’t want your son to win.’’
Austin Rivers has had an up-and-down rookie season. It was more up in December, when he scored in double figures six times, including a career-high 27 points against Minnesota. It's been mostly down in the past nine games, with Austin having averaged just 1.1 points to drop his seasonal average to 6.2.
But Austin, who grew up in the Orlando area and led Winter Park High School to state basketball titles in 2010 and 2011, will be fired up Wednesday.
“It’s obviously a different situation.’’ Austin said. “We’ve never been on opposite sides …. But I’m an NBA player. I’m going to try to beat him, and he’s going to try to beat me.’’
Austin said he and his dad only have spoken in short bursts about the matchup since last summer, when the guard was drafted out of Duke with the No. 10 pick in June and the schedule came out the next month. But it has included some trash talking.
“My dad’s been like, ‘You’ll never beat me,’ ’’ Austin said. “That’s how my dad is. I’ll come come back and say, ‘Nah, we’re going to try.’ ’’
The Celtics (20-17) are big favorites to knock off the young Hornets (12-26). But Doc Rivers wonders if members of his family will be rooting for the home team or not.
The coach wasn’t sure early in the week if his wife, Kris, would be at the game since she might stay at the family home in Florida in preparation for a game the couple’s youngest son, Spencer, has Thursday for Winter Park High School. But oldest son Jeremiah and daughter Callie will be at the TD Garden.
Earlier in the season, Doc Rivers, said that “in my household, nobody will be cheering for me’’ and talked about how everybody in the family was wearing Hornets gear. But he’s wondering now if at least some support could come his way.
“At least they’re going to come gearless,’’ Doc Rivers said of family members not planning to wear garb from either team. “Maybe, if Austin isn’t playing a lot, they’ll start booing (Hornets coach) Monty Williams and then they’ll be back on my side …. Austin has been struggling, but that’s part of being a rookie. He’ll work though it and learn from it and all of this will make him better.’’
Rivers is good friends with Williams, who was once his teammate in both New York and San Antonio and who has played Austin 14 minutes in the past three games combined. But, regardless of what happens Wednesday, the father and son again will battle March 20 in New Orleans.
New Orleans was the site of the first NBA father-son meeting. On Nov. 9, 1976, with a meager 7,606 fans on hand at the cavernous Superdome, coach van Breda Kolff’s Jazz defeated player van Breda Kolff’s Nets 110-99.
Jan had six points in 19 minutes. He doesn’t remember anything special from the game, and didn’t even realize until more than a quarter century later the role he and his father had played in history.
“Back in the '70s, there wasn’t ESPN and all the media outlets there are today,’’ Jan has said. “I don’t recall anybody saying, ‘This is history.’ I didn’t even realize we had been the only ones until the Dunleavys started to do it.’’
Even after finding out, Jan said he never talked to his father about it. His father, best known for taking Princeton to the 1965 Final Four and the Lakers to NBA Finals in 1968 and 1969, died in August 2007.
“It was never revisited once,’’ said Jan, who later became a college coach, including at alma mater Vanderbilt. “When the Dunleavys came along, he was in the last three or four years of his life and had a hard time understanding.’’
The Dunleavys made a dad coaching against his son a regular occurrence. The two faced each other in seven straight seasons, with the first meeting Nov. 14, 2003, at Golden State.
“It was unusual is the best way to describe it,’’ Dunleavy Jr., now with Milwaukee, said about the game when the son was a Warriors second-year man and his dad was in his first year with the Clippers. “You’re used to hearing his voice, but then you're out there hearing his voice telling players what to do against me. It was just different.’’
The winner of each meeting would buy dinner afterward. Dad ate free after the first one, a 104-98 win that saw his son being held to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting. And even though Dunleavy Sr. would win 13 of the 21 meetings, he still didn't have much fun coaching against his son.
“It’s really bad,’’ Dunleavy Sr. has said. “For the first time in your life, you don’t want your son’s team to win. You’re sharing in the scouting. It just goes against your nature.’’
George Karl agrees it’s tougher on the coach because the son is simply playing while the father must talk in meetings about his son’s weaknesses and how to stop him. But at least the Denver coach didn’t have it as tough as Dunleavy Sr., considering Dunleavy Jr. always has been a key player while Coby Karl was a deep reserve in his two NBA regular seasons of 2007-08 and 2009-10.
In the one regular-season game against his father, Coby had one point in three mop-up minutes of 116-99 Lakers win Jan. 21, 2008. When he became the only son ever to go against his father in a playoff game, he played a scoreless two minutes in a 122-107 Lakers victory April 23, 2008.
But, just as Dunleavy Sr. one day could return to the NBA to coach against his son, George Karl holds out hope he again will face his son, now with the NBA D League’s Idaho Stampede. The coach did go against his son in a preseason game last October, with Coby scoring 11 points in 21 minutes in a 97-80 Portland win before he was waived shortly thereafter.
“Have fun with it,’’ George Karl said when asked what advice he has for Doc Rivers on Wednesday. “You’ll be nervous. There will be more of an edge. Coby kicked our butt in an exhibition game in Portland, and that didn’t feel good. But it did feel good. That was an exhibition game so it didn’t matter. But it’s difficult because you’re competing and you always want your son to have positive results.’’
Coby actually is the only NBA player ever to be on a team’s roster when his father was listed as coach. But that hardly counts since when Coby spent the final weeks of the 2009-10 season with Denver, he never got into a game and his father never was with the team due to a leave of absence for cancer treatment.
That does bring up the question: Would Austin ever like to play for his father?
“That would be interesting,’’ he said. “I don’t know if that would ever happen because our relationship is so good you would never want to jeopardize it with that stuff. But, if that situation ever did arrive, you would just treat it as player-coach.’’
As for now, the relationship is a very good one. The coach and son talk regularly after games, with Austin saying his father regularly offers pointers on what he did right and what went wrong.
The pointers now might be a bit delayed in arriving. But Austin should hear plenty after Wednesday’s game in Boston.