I never liked Austin Rivers. If you followed basketball — college or pro — in the past 10 years or so, you probably didn’t much like him either. He was a Dukie, and annoying even by the standards of Duke players. He was the coach’s son who always seemed to play with an entitled sneer that never fit his actual talent level.
Hell, even his teammates mocked him.
In honor of Austin Rivers leaving the Clippers, here’s my fav video of Blake Griffin impersonating him: pic.twitter.com/9Tv9Rr6zmR— Melissa Stetten (@MelissaStetten) June 27, 2018
NBA fans laughed whenever he received his comeuppance, like during that fateful playoff game against the Rockets in 2015.
I knew Rivers eventually turned into a solid contributor on some excellent Houston teams, though, and I was happy when the Knicks signed him this past offseason. He would bring some outside shooting and off-the-dribble creation, both of which the team desperately needed. I wasn’t thinking about veteran professionalism or any of that intangible crap.
Rivers wowed the New York press on Media Day by speaking about relishing the challenge of building a winning team as opposed to joining a ready-made playoff team.
“It’s easy to go somewhere where everything already is set up and they’ve been to the playoffs four, five years in a row, I’ve been on those teams. Those are great experiences. But I want to take those experiences and lessons and help this team and this organization as many ways as possible. That era of people not wanting to come here, our job is to change that. We have to make that attractive. And we will.’’
It was well spoken, to be sure, but I’ve been tricked by other vets who came in talking a good game. Hell, Enes Kanter was a great quote on Media Day. Let’s see what happens on the court.
Austin Rivers has only played two games with the Knicks, and I’m already prepared to admit I was wrong. This dude is no Kanter. He is exactly the kind of veteran this young club needs to build a decent culture.
Following the Knicks’ depressing New Year’s Eve loss to the Raptors, during which they shot a pathetic 3-36 from beyond the arc, Rivers felt compelled to rally the fans via Instagram:
NYK vet Austin Rivers writes on Instagram after loss to TOR: “It’s a process. Trust us. We getting better.... I promise we getting there step-by-step.” Rivers made Knicks debut Thursday. New York shot terribly, defended solidly in loss to TOR, fell to 2-3. Rivers’ full post here: pic.twitter.com/grsbyqrRjB— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) January 1, 2021
Again, the words were great, but it was the way Rivers played the following game that really showed me something. He took a nasty spill in the first half after completing a layup, banging his head on the stanchion and kept playing. When the offense began to struggle in the fourth quarter, Rivers replaced an increasingly useless Reggie Bullock and powered the offense with the three-ball. He scored a team-high 10 points in the final frame, while his teammates pitched in on the defensive end to shut down the Pacers.
I’ve been trained by decades of experience watching this team to never believe in good things, but this Rivers cat really speaks to me so far, through his words and actions. Like the Knicks and their fans, he has suffered his share of failure and derision over the years, and it only made him stronger. He gets it. I’m glad he’s one of us.
Now if only he could take some of Elfrid Payton’s minutes.