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Austin Rivers: ‘It’s the happiest I’ve been in my career’

Rivers discusses his rep as Doc’s son and his squashed beef with Chris Paul

OAKLAND, California – The classic hip-hop hit “Just to Get a Rep” by Gang Starr blared out of the Oracle Arena speakers as new Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers completed his pregame workout. The song was fitting. Since his childhood, Rivers has tried to get his own basketball rep and emerge from the shadow cast by his father, NBA head coach and former All-Star Doc Rivers.

“People have been going at my head since I was 6 years old,” Rivers told The Undefeated before a 135-134 win over the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 3. “So why do you think I have that swagger? That is why you don’t see many success stories of sons of players or coaches in the NBA. Imagine the pressure? I had to battle all of that.

“Why don’t you think any other coaches have sons that play in the NBA? Any other GMs? Assistant coaches? Many former players had sons that played basketball. Why am I here? Why is Klay [Thompson] here? Why is someone like Steph [Curry] here? You have that level [mentally]. The way they approach their game is different. I approach mine in a different way. And I got it worse than them because my dad is still in the league coaching. I got to work. That’s the way I am. If people don’t like it, the hell with them. I’m not going to change for nobody.”

Former Los Angeles Clippers Guard Austin Rivers (25) talks with Head Coach and father Doc Rivers during an NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Clippers on April 1, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Despite being Doc Rivers’ son, Rivers earned his place in the NBA. The 2011 Naismith Prep Player of the Year made the 2012 All-Atlantic Coast Conference team as a true freshman at Duke and was the 10th pick in the 2012 NBA draft by the New Orleans Hornets. He has averaged nearly 10 points per game during his seven-year career, including a career-high 15.1 points for the Los Angeles Clippers last season.

The Clippers traded Rivers to the Washington Wizards for center Marcin Gortat on June 26, 2018, but his time with the struggling Wizards was short. On Dec. 17, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns and then waived. A week later, on Dec. 24, Rivers joined the Rockets.

“He’s been a great pickup,” teammate James Harden said. “I don’t know where he came from, but I’m happy he is here now. Defensively, he is aggressive. Offensively, he makes some big-time shots, gets to the rim. He fits in well with what we’re trying to do.”

Perhaps in Houston, Austin Rivers will finally be able to get respect for being Austin Rivers.

Rivers, 26, recently talked to The Undefeated about the challenges of being Doc Rivers’ son, his pride in playing for his father, his relationship with Chris Paul, and more.

Do you think you get a bad rap in the NBA?

I get a bad rap because of two things. One, I played for my father. People don’t know how to react to that. I talk s— hooping, just like every other player in the league. But people are like, ‘Oh, he’s arrogant.’ It’s because my last name is Rivers. But I do everything everyone else does. I grind. I work my butt off. The only reason is because I played for my pops.

And two, because I play with a chip on my shoulder. And what people don’t understand is, I had to have that or else I wouldn’t be here. There’s a reason why most coaches’ sons and players’ sons don’t make it to the NBA. You’re born with everything. You’re born spoiled. So I didn’t have to grind for nothing.

Where did your swagger and confidence come from?

That chip on the shoulder that most of these guys have, they have it because they had to get out of the mud. These dudes had to make it out. So how am I supposed to resonate with that when I don’t have that? The one thing I had was that I was Doc’s son. I used that as my chip on my shoulder. My swagger. My confidence.

Because I come from money, people think it’s arrogance. But that’s how I resonate and how I play, because when you are born with everything, you don’t have to work on nothing. And I didn’t want anything from my father, which was the crazy thing playing for him.

I wanted to earn it myself.

You don’t go play pickup [basketball] in the nice neighborhoods to get better. You got to go to the ‘hood to play pickup. All my best friends are from the ‘hood. I had to go places that weren’t the safest areas to hoop every single day. I am putting this on the record. I used to go to the Smith Center [Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center] every weekend to play against the best players in Orlando playing pickup. I am a rich kid coming in there. Who do you think these guys were going at? That is where I get the chip from, bro.

My dad also raised me how he was raised. My dad was raised in the streets of Chicago. I ain’t no punk. But people think I try to be a tough guy. I’ve never tried to be that. You’ve never heard me in an interview or saying, ‘I’ll beat that dude’s a–.’ That’s not who I am. Look at that [Clippers] fight with Houston last [season]. I never said anything to Trevor [Ariza] or nobody. I didn’t say I wanted to fight anybody. That is not who I am.

So why do you pay attention to the hate?

I stopped trying at first. I was frustrated. But now I realized that I can only control what I can control. I am going to be me. If I continue to do the things that I am doing now here, it will start to change because I don’t play for him anymore. The whole narrative is dead now. It has already started to change, but playing for him is crazy. I got it bad. When I played on the road, the fans were so mean.

I don’t care. But at the end of the day, we’re all human. Damn, people were mean for no reason. But you fight through it. But what won’t kill you will make you stronger.

What has this season been like so far?

It’s been the craziest one yet. Believe me. Man, oh, man. I’ve been playing in a lot of different situations. It was kind of a roller-coaster, at first. But everything happens for a reason. I’m not trying to sound all vague or stereotypical or ‘God has a plan’-type stuff — but he really does for me. I got to a situation that obviously wasn’t a good one [in Washington]. They got a lot going on over there that they need to fix. A lot of good people over there. It just wasn’t the right place to be.

Everybody kept telling me, ‘Stay up. Stay with it. It is going to all work out.’ When you hear that, you’re just like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But then when it happens, it happens. You just got to stay with it and keep your head up. So that’s what I’ve been focusing on this year.

Why did you sign with the Rockets?

Why not Houston? Look at how they play. Everything they do, I like to do. Offensively they like to run and gun. They shoot the 3, get to the basket, which is all I like to do. They needed another creator, besides Chris [Paul] and James [Harden]. Most importantly, just defensivewise, stuff I can do for that team helping them defensively, that was like a no-brainer. Once they said Houston, I was, ‘This is where I got to go, man. This is where I got to go.’ And as you see, it’s been great.

How happy are you now?

It’s the happiest I’ve been in my career. This is the same way I felt in L.A. That freedom, responsibility, everything’s there. I can’t complain one bit. And I know Chris is out, so more minutes are there now. But even when Chris is back, I know what I can do on this team. We’re all here to do our part. James does his biggest part, and we support him and what he does. It’s a great situation. I’m very, very, very happy right now.

Austin Rivers #25 and Chris Paul #3, formerly of the Los Angeles Clippers react to a call during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

How did you and Chris Paul clear the air?

(Note: There were several media reports stating that Paul believed Austin Rivers was a benefactor of nepotism because his father, the head coach of the Clippers, reportedly refused to trade his son to the New York Knicks in a deal for Carmelo Anthony. ESPN’s Michael Eaves also reported that part of the reason Paul wanted to be traded from L.A. to Houston was because of the alleged nepotism. Paul never publicly confirmed these media reports.)

Everything that happened was so silly and so stupid. A lot of it was on my part in terms of I let a lot of things that were said in the media about me and Chris affect me and his relationship. I accepted it like as if Chris was saying that s—, when he wasn’t doing [anything]. It ended up kind of messing us up at the time, because there was all this stuff about how we were interacting that wasn’t true.

I never had a problem with Chris. We never had one argument. We never got in a fight, not even practice. So when all this stuff was coming out, the fact that me and him had some beef was crazy to me. When we worked out this past summer [during Dwyane Wade’s offseason basketball workouts in Los Angeles], there was nothing to be said.

Obviously, I [was] there to learn from Chris, Dwyane, Melo, Hall of Fame players. I was working out with C.J. McCollum just trying to pick up stuff, and now I’m here with Chris. It’s funny how everything works out.

Me and Chris haven’t even had to say [anything] about it because we both moved on. I was just with [him] at an event at his house. It’s just crazy how in today’s age everything does revolve around social media. Social media is so powerful.

Do you think it’s good that you and your dad are separated workwise now?

Yeah, it was time. We both had an amazing time. We got to do something that no other player and coach has got to do.

We both agreed it got to the point where we were just like, I had a lot of success there, I really committed my career there, but my head was at the ceiling. They were trying to really clean house. They got rid of Blake [Griffin], JJ [Redick], Jamal [Crawford] and DJ [DeAndre Jordan]. Me and DJ were the last ones. Everything worked out great. I’m doing great in Houston, and the Clippers are doing great.

The fact that I got to play with him, and we got to hoop on the same team, that is so dope. Like people hate on it, but that’s one of the coolest s— ever. I’ll be able to tell my son that me and his grandfather got to work together.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.