ORLANDO, Fla. -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is spending a lot of time playing golf this summer, which is nothing unusual. A bag of clubs has long been his constant offseason companion.
The golfing experience, though, has changed dramatically.
|Bill Russell was among the first to offer kudos to Doc Rivers. (Getty Images)|
Life after an NBA championship has its perks.
"When you've been in basketball as long as I have, you forget just how emotionally attached people are to you and your team," Rivers said Wednesday. "I've had a million people congratulate me this summer, and you never get tired of it."
Rivers has gone from the outhouse a year before to the penthouse, in the eyes of some Celtics fans, by helping to orchestrate the biggest turnaround in league history. Boston went from 24 to 66 victories, from the bottom of the Atlantic Division to the top of the NBA.
In the last six weeks, he has heard from grade school friends, high school buddies, college professors he once had at Marquette University, former players and rival coaches. People he doesn't even know have called, too.
During one round of golf recently at Salem (Mass.) Country Club, one of the greenskeepers got off his mower and walked over to greet him. There were tears in his eyes and his voice cracked as he thanked Rivers for a job well done. Rivers was so touched, he started tearing up, too.
"It just blew me away," Rivers said. "The greatest thing about winning the title is getting to share it with people you come in contact with, people you didn't even know it had an impact on. Winning was an emotional time for me and the staff, but you sometimes underestimate the emotions of the fans. Until you see something like this."
On one of his trips from Boston to his offseason home in Central Florida, he was walking through the airport when an elderly Celtics fan started shaking his hand and wouldn't let go, recounting tales from past Boston championships and the lowlights since the previous one.
Throughout the summer, the scene hasn't changed too much. When Rivers came to watch the Orlando Pro Summer League Games, in the facility where he once coached and was unceremoniously fired, he was swamped by well-wishers.
While sitting courtside with his son, a loose ball ended up at his feet. One of the rookies playing with the New Jersey Nets came to retrieve it, congratulating Rivers before inbounding the ball to restart play.
Rivers has spent this week watching his son, Austin, play AAU Basketball at Disney's Wide World of Sports. On Friday, Rivers will play in his charity golf tournament nearby that benefits Shepherd's Hope, the non-profit organization that provides free medical care for the poor. His success in Boston is expected to make the event more profitable than ever.