By Paul Herlihey
There were 9.4 seconds left on the clock and the Los Angeles Clippers led the Dallas Mavericks by nine points. To everyone’s surprise, Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers called timeout.
In what is believed to be an unprecedented move, Rivers took the microphone from the scorer’s table and offered a brief tribute to Mavericks forward and NBA legend, Dirk Nowitzki, calling him, “One of the greatest of all time.” Rivers motioned to the crowd to join him and the Staples Center erupted in a standing ovation while teammates and opponents congratulated and embraced Nowitzki. He was visibly moved as he donned a sheepish grin, saluted Rivers and waved to the crowd.
After the game, Nowitzki expressed his gratitude saying, “It was sweet. I’m really appreciative… that was really humbling. That was an emotional moment.” Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle was also touched by the gesture. “It was one of the greatest things I’ve seen,” said Carlisle. “I know there will be moments similar to that, but this was an original. I’ve never seen something like this.” In what many believe to be his last season, Nowitzki has received memorable tributes from across the league, but none so meaningful or unique as this.
What can we learn from Rivers’ touching gesture?
For starters, he demonstrated that the authentic express of emotion can have a powerful impact. It’s actually what sets sports apart. Too often, coaches make headlines when they let their emotions get the best of them. In this case, Rivers directed his emotions towards a noble cause and exhibited unmistakable authenticity.
Rivers also reminded us of a key principle in effective communication: It’s not about you. Rivers, whose team was about to win the game, made it about Dirk.
The best ways to connect with an audience are through gratitude and humility – which add up to likability. Rivers understood that and in the process created an unforgettable moment for Clippers fans and for Mavericks fans watching on TV.
When asked about it, Rivers simply said, “That was just, we had a lead and I had a timeout. Honestly, I didn’t plan it. I just felt like he deserved that.”
Of course, his generous tribute created positive sentiment in the media and on social media for Rivers, all because it wasn’t about him. Funny how that works.