Celtics coach Doc Rivers had a multitude of reasons to feel empathy for Mike Brown, his colleague in the NBA coaching fraternity who was let go today by the Los Angeles Lakers. Most notably, he knew exactly how Brown felt -- he, too, has been through the ordeal of a much-publicized firing early in the season.
Rivers, who began the 2003-04 season losing 10 of 11 games at the helm of the Orlando Magic, was fired in mid-November of that year after four-plus seasons with the team. Looking back on the incident nearly a decade later, Rivers was able to recall the bittersweet emotions that came with leaving Orlando.
"I was kind of relieved at the time," he said. "I kind of felt like it was coming eventually. It was only talked about every day.
"But I don't think people ever understand that whenever anybody loses their job and it's done publicly, you have kids in school, and they have to hear that stuff every day. I don't think people really get the way our job is public. All four of my kids were in school, and they had to hear it every day, and kids aren't very nice to kids. So for me, I didn't think much about myself. I just thought about the kids."
For Brown, who began his season with the Lakers at 1-4 before his firing today, the family hardship was particularly hard, as rumors surfaced this morning of his teenage son receiving death threats from angry Laker fans. Eventually, the emotionally taxing nature of the job and the Lakers' on-court failures piled too high, and Brown parted ways with the team today.
"I think it's awful," Rivers said of the firing. "Five games into a season, that's hard to believe. Hard to believe when guys are injured, especially. I don't think Dwight [Howard] played at all during the preseason, or Kobe [Bryant]. But that's their mess. I just feel for Mike."
It's the second time in three years that Brown has been dismissed from a high-profile coaching gig with a star-caliber roster -- first Brown was fired in Cleveland in the summer of 2010 while the Cavaliers attempted to re-sign LeBron James, and now he's failed to manage the egos of Bryant and Howard in L.A. Rivers lamented that in today's star-driven league, the job will always be challenging.
"All of us are making a lot of money, and the players are making money, and that means there's more pressure," the Celtics' coach said. "That's part of it, and we have to accept that. We really do. If you don't perform, it's easier to move one. That's just the way this life is. I still love it, but I understand that for any of us, this can happen."
On a positive note, though, Rivers did point out that walking away from Orlando was ultimately a positive development for him -- after a brief sabbatical from coaching to work a TV gig, he returned to the sidelines stronger than ever.
"It was a great thing for me," he said. "I've said this for years but just haven't done it -- getting away every once in a while is a good thing for coaches. I believe that, and I keep saying that. It allows you to recharge, go back on the things you've done well and the things you haven't done well, and reassess. That's why teachers take sabbaticals. It was a great thing for me. Now I'm here, and I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
"Well," he added, "maybe the Bahamas."