Furman Bisher column: Doc never too far from home

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

He is not your typical NBA coach, that meaning National Basketball Association. He coaches the Boston Celtics, but still lives in Winter Park, Fla., adjacent to Orlando, where he once coached the Magic.

They fired him, but he never left, even after the Celtics hired him. It’s a tough commute, about 200,000 air miles a season, but Glenn Rivers is a family man, and Winter Park is where the family is.

You have to know Doc Rivers to understand.

He grew up in Maywood, a sort of a blister on Chicago’s heel. A suburb in which harness racing is a major attraction, and the girl he married was his major attraction. After graduating from Marquette University in Wisconsin — where he acquired his game name of “Doc” from the “Dr. J.” jersey he wore — life in the NBA followed, and I say this on my own — that no professional athlete ever worked the Atlanta scene and has been more warmly welcomed on return, even in the clothing of a rival team than Doc.

Suffice it to say that we became friends, mainly on the golf course, and we acquired a trophy or two — small ones — as a team. He was long off the tee and I could putt, which has nothing to do with the Thursday night in Chapel Hill, where Duke met Carolina in the first of their traditional “war” game.

It’s my own opinion, but as I see it, there is no greater rivalry in basketball than when the Blue Devils meet the Tar Heels. The first of this year’s matching took place in Dean Smith Dome, and it was a meeting of historic proportions, even though Duke has run afoul defeat more often than usual.

Doc was there because his son, the third child, is a freshman at Duke. Not easy, flying from Boston to Tobacco Road, then back for a Celtics game. But Doc was there, and caught on camera, of course.

The son, Austin, was in the game most of the 40 minutes, a 6-4 guard, and in the final seconds popped one of his three-pointers, and Duke won. It was his 29th point of the game, and as he described it to the post-game TV audience, “I just threw it up there and God guided it through the basket,” he said, smiling broadly.

No braggart, just a good Christian son reflecting his sound upbringing.

It was a classic moment in this unmatched rivalry. I’m a Carolina grad, but no matter who wins or loses, you never lose when Duke and Carolina play. Even my wife, who rates basketball “just above professional rasslin,” was still exultant a day later.

As, I’m certain, was Doc.