Remember the final quote from the last slide? Wipe it from your memory. Doc Rivers did attack James Harden in a film session when he criticized him for taking “the final three shots in regulation of a double-overtime loss” to the lowly Rockets, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
That tongue-lashing was the first in a series of uncomfortable incidents.
The biggest one centered around Harden booking a private flight to Miami instead of traveling with his teammates. It should be noted that the front office had signed off on James’ travel arrangements. Still, Rivers didn’t like it and let the superstar know it after an off-the-record poll of the locker room showed some Sixers’ teammates agreed with the head coach. Shelburne wrote:
"Days later, Rivers brought it up in a team meeting, sources said, specifically mentioning several of the players who expressed concerns about Harden’s actions. The whole episode was “uncomfortable,” one team source said. Even if they agreed with the substance of Rivers’ message to Harden, and the idea of holding him accountable, it was awkward for the players who were named."
My take on the Rivers vs. Harden fights is they were window-dressing for the bigger issue.
Shiny allusions are meant to distract from the larger problem. Rivers shouldn’t have called Harden out in a very public setting like that, nor should he have betrayed the confidence of the other players who had voiced their displeasure. Great coaches challenge star players in private, perhaps in the comfort of their office with the door locked. It didn’t have to go down like that.
Is Harden innocent? No, he should be bonding with his teammates and riding the chartered flight. But nothing good comes when grievances are aired out for everyone to see. And that goes for every sport at any level, not just professional basketball.