LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers choked back tears Friday as he struggled for strength and searched for the words to describe how much his father Grady, who died last November, has meant to him.
The elder Rivers, a former policeman, died after a brief illness in the early days of a season that could end with his medically nicknamed son Glenn guiding the Celtics to their 17th National Basketball Association title.
The Celtics lead the Los Angeles Lakers 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and could claim their first crown since 1986 by winning game five here on Sunday, when Americans celebrate Father's Day.
Should they falter, the Celtics would have another chance back at Boston in game six on Tuesday, which would have been Grady Rivers' 77th birthday.
So it's no wonder Doc Rivers had to fight to compose himself to talk about a father whose life lessons he has imparted to his players for years.
After being asked about his father, the 46-year-old coach remained silent for nearly half a minute before saying, "Yeah, that's just a tough one for me to talk about."
Rivers, who would be the first black coach to win an NBA title since K.C. Jones in 1986, found his phrases moments later.
"To go back to my dad, he's just very important in my life," Rivers said. "It's still very difficult for me to talk about because I haven't had a lot of time, really, to reflect on it. It happened during the season unexpectedly.
"It's very, very difficult but I do think about it. I think about it a lot."
Rivers deflects credit for the Celtics' rise from the second-worst record in the NBA last season to the brink of a crown after an NBA-best 66-16 season, the biggest turnaround from one year to the next in league history.
He refuses to rank himself among such elite multiple-championship coaches as the Lakers' Phil Jackson and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, instead being happy that Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge did not fire him after last season.
"I'm not in that class and don't deserve to be in that class," Rivers said. "But last year was a tough year. It was a tough year for me as a coach. It was a tough year for our players.
"Hell, I'm thankful that Danny hung in there with me more than anything."
Rivers is not worried about winning the title as a coach that eluded him as a player to validate his skills.
"I don't know. I don't care. I love coaching," Rivers said.
"It's very difficult family-wise because even if you're with them, you're not. Even when you're there, you're not. It consumes you 24 hours (a day). That's actually what I like about it."
The players like Rivers as well, with Kevin Garnett praising his honest criticism and inspiring wisdom in his first season with the Celtics.
"Doc's not afraid to tell us when we're messing up," Garnett said. "He gives it to us straight, lets us know. He's probably one of the best motivators I've been around in a while. He gives us hope through his words and we believe it."
Rivers is in his ninth NBA season. He was fired by Orlando after a 1-10 start in his fifth season with the Magic but hired in 2004 by the Celtics and given the time and personnel to make the Celtics a winner once more.
"He has done a great job," Celtics scoring leader Paul Pierce said. "He knows the game better than anybody I have played with on this level. He has been great for me."
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