Doc Rivers: 'This was a distraction'

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Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the team was distracted and angered by the racist comments made by owner Donald Sterling.

"This was a distraction," Rivers said in an interview Sunday with ESPN's Michael Wilbon. "In our first meeting after the tapes came out and we had a meeting before practice, and when I walked in that room and looked at [the players'] faces, it was bothering them. They were angry. They wanted to DO something.

"As a coach, I had to think about it. I'm not going to kid you. I walked out with my gear on, because I needed the players to see me with the gear on, but it wasn't easy to do it on that day. Because at that moment, at that time, you're representing something else, and you didn't want to and that was hard."

The hardship the Clippers have gone through off the court has led to a boost in national interest in the team, with an uptick being seen in the TV ratings of the Clippers' four playoff games since the scandal broke.

Despite that, Rivers has rejected any notion that his team is now "America's Team" in the NBA. Instead, he noted how much change he's seen in his lifetime on the topic of race relations.

Rivers grew up in Maywood, Illinois, a town 10 miles outside of downtown Chicago, and is the product of an interracial marriage.

"I grew up in the '60s as a child at Proviso East [High School], which was on '60 Minutes' in the '60s because of racial acts," Rivers told Wilbon. "... And the blacks walked on one side and the whites walked on the other side and they were throwing stuff back and forth. And I used to sit there and watch them do it and think, What are they mad at it? I remember asking my dad, 'What are they mad at?' And he used to say, 'They don't know. They just don't know.'"

Rivers, whose father was a police officer, said sports also aided him in seeing past race.

"I think sports helps me, too. Sports, you don't care what's next to you, you just want to know, can he play?" Rivers said. "I think that does help. I think people who play sports learn that early on -- that there's no race; there's people. And I think that's important."

The Clippers, who will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the playoffs, have been embroiled in a scandal that has led to the excommunication of Sterling, the team's longtime owner.

As questions have ranged from whether the players should boycott to who will lead the organization going forward, Rivers (also the Clippers' senior vice president of basketball operations) has served as the public face of the franchise as its best chance at winning a title comes at the same time as its biggest scandal.

ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi contributed to this report.

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