Pushing for Justice
They lined up across from each other last week at State Farm Arena, but make no mistake, when it comes to using basketball as a tool to advance societal change, Doc Rivers and Lloyd Pierce are unwaveringly aligned.
Rivers, of course, is the 76ers' head coach. Pierce, a former Sixers assistant, is Rivers' counterpart in Atlanta.
Back in November, the duo was named as inaugural members of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition. They're the only two coaches on the 15-person board and were selected by the NBA and National Basketball Players Association for their continued leadership and commitment to advancing social justice as members of the National Basketball Coaches Association and on their individual teams.
The board also consists of five owners, five players as well as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.
"Obviously it's an honor - it's an honor for me to be on [the Coalition]," Rivers said prior to the Sixers’ Jan. 11 game in Atlanta, "but it's more of an honor that we got this thing going."
"Doc Rivers and Lloyd Pierce are two living, breathing difference-makers in the fight for social justice,” said Rick Carlisle, head coach of the Dallas Mavericks and president of the National Basketball Coaches Association. “They have both done extensive work related to voting rights, local government policy-making and serve as national voices for the overall cause. We are proud to have Doc and Lloyd representing us on the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition."
The formation of the Social Justice Coalition came as part of a series of action items the league and its players agreed upon in the aftermath in George Floyd's murder last May.
Throughout the NBA's hiatus and restart, its constituents - not just players and coaches, but executives and officials - took it upon themselves to champion equality, while advocating for social reform through civic engagement.
That mission isn't changing now that the new season is here. Rivers is optimistic that the Social Justice Coalition will make an impact.
"We're going to hire outside staff to actually run it and help us run it," said Rivers. "We're coaches and players and we have to do our job. The only way this thing can run is if we can go out and - with real money - hire people. That's where the governors come in, and they're going to do that for us. I think it's really important."
By necessity more than choice, Rivers has become one of the steadiest, most respected voices in all of sports on matters of racial inequality and social injustice. Unfortunately, he has the track record to prove it.
Six years ago, Rivers led the LA Clippers through the Donald Sterling crisis. Then, in August, following the shooting of Jacob Blake by law enforcement in Wisconsin, the 59-year old former Coach of the Year delivered impassioned remarks about the mistreatment of Black men in America.
The comments drew widespread praise.
Rivers has also been a longstanding supporter of the non-partisan I Am A Voter project.
Pierce, 15 years younger than Rivers, was intimately involved with get-out-the-vote efforts in Atlanta for both the 2020 general election and Georgia's Senate runoff. He was especially instrumental in securing State Farm Arena, where the Hawks play their home games, as the first NBA venue to serve as a polling site.
“Doc and Lloyd are true leaders both on-the-court and in the fight for social justice,” said David Fogel, Executive Director and General Counsel of the NBCA.
Within the NBCA, Rivers and Pierce took the lead in swiftly organizing a Zoom call with fellow NBA head coaches following George Floyd’s murder. The result was the formation of the NBA Coaches for Racial Justice campaign.
"Neither Doc nor Lloyd has wavered in their messages to reconcile with and raise awareness about the real history of racial injustice in our country," Fogel said. "Coaches Rivers and Pierce are two special leaders chosen to serve on the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition and they will continue to represent NBA Coaches and the NBA Coaches Association in a positive way.”
While Rivers and Pierce share common views of the world, they really didn’t have much of a relationship until this past year.
"I think in the [coaching] business, if you haven't worked together a lot of your connections are Summer League and the Combine and things of that nature," Pierce said. "That's really been the connection I've had with Doc."
"I think this year, this summer, me being a head coach, we've obviously communicated a little bit more, texted a lot more, and had a lot of conversations - real conversations about everything that's been going on with the [National Basketball] Coaches Association throughout the summer."
A few weeks ago, in mid-December, the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition held its first formal meeting. Rivers is eager to keep moving forward.
"There are so many issues that we need to handle," he said. "Voter suppression, voting in general are at the top of that, but we have a lot to discuss."
Pierce is excited too, and looking forward to partnering with Rivers, a peer who he's long admired.
"I think he's a wonderful human being, a wonderful coach, tremendous in terms of his leadership on and off the court," said Pierce. "It's been good to get to know him during this time."