Just like the rest of us, the Hawks' head coach has much more time at home while social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the NBA suspending its season March 11. He's holding team Zoom meetings on Sundays, hopping in more small-group meetings that are led by assistant coaches and getting game film to players so they have something to study, even if working out at a home gym isn't really an option for them (rookie players such as Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter live in apartment complexes). He's spending time with his young daughter, Maya Joy.
In the spirit of a question he posed to his players (“What can we do that’s more productive than video games, Netflix?”), he’s also finding ways to engage the Atlanta basketball community and give back during this time of crisis.
Obviously, Pierce can't offer actual games right now, entertainment many are craving as they stay inside to try and limit the spread of COVID-19 — the Hawks had 15 games remaining when the season was suspended, and it's unclear if they'll ever get to play those or if the league will forgo the regular season. Even commissioner Adam Silver doesn't yet know the fate of those games or this year's playoffs, or how the dates of the NBA draft and next season's start dates could be affected.
Amid all that uncertainty, Pierce has settled into the routine of hosting free weekly basketball coaching clinics via Zoom every Wednesday for coaches of all levels in metro Atlanta.
“This is my way of giving them basketball, anyone who’s willing to learn, talk basketball, this is how we can share,” Pierce said. “There’s many ways we can share and give back, and this is just one of those.”
For Pierce, it’s about focusing on the good, even during a difficult time.
“I’m constantly thinking, what are the positives that are coming out of all of this,” Pierce said. “For me, and I’ve always felt this way, I’m not afraid to learn. I have no problems learning. I learn in a variety of ways, whether it’s creating a coaching clinic and what that means and what type of impact that has for others. When you give to others and you see others are impacted by what you’ve done, it helps you grow. For me, it just shows that the more I do, the more I grow. The more I help others, the better I become. The less it’s about me. The more it’s about ‘us.’”
Pierce and his wife, Melissa, also started The Atlanta Pledge, which shines a spotlight on two Atlanta-based nonprofit organizations, Hope Thru Soap and Atlanta Community Food Bank, that are helping those with immediate needs during the coronavirus crisis. Hope Thru Soap provides food resources and hygiene products to the city's homeless and unsheltered population, and the Atlanta Community Food Bank is working to provide hunger relief.
Many Atlanta figures have announced their support for The Atlanta Pledge, from Falcons coach Dan Quinn to Vince Carter to former Hawk and current broadcaster Dominique Wilkins to Dream coach Nicki Collen. Pierce and his wife are matching donations up to $25,000. They’re also providing meals for health-care workers at some local American Red Cross locations throughout the month of April (they both also donated blood in early April).
The Pledge is a way for people to lend a helping hand, but also know they’re contributing to something even if they can’t assist in person.
“It’s also about bringing our community together,” Pierce said. “If we can provide this platform, if we can provide the opportunity to support two organizations that are doing great work, we’re helping from our apartments, from our homes, and we also know exactly where our money’s going.”
That was part of the logic with the basketball clinics, as well: making it work even though things can’t be carried out in person right now.
“Everyone’s new reality right now is to hop online, and I thought, why not just do what we’ve done already, do more of it,” Pierce said. “I think one of the things we always leave the clinic in September saying is, ‘I wish I could do more, I wish I could give you guys more.’”
Pierce hosted one in-person coaching clinic in September of the past two years, so in a way, this is a continuation (the concept of the clinic was modeled by 76ers coach Brett Brown, who Pierce coached under while he was an assistant coach in Philadelphia). The clinics will continue until this period of social distancing and quarantines come to an end, Pierce said, or until he runs out of topics, but he doubts the latter will come first. He’s already planning ways to make the clinics more interactive, sending out surveys to coaches asking what they’d like to hear.
Topics range far and wide, from offense and shooting to defense to player development. The third clinic took place April 15 and featured five-time NBA assist leader and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, who was Pierce’s teammate at Santa Clara; and LA Sparks guard Candace Parker, a WNBA champion and five-time WNBA All-Star.
Pierce also wants the clinics to help develop the voices of his young team, with second-year Hawks wing Kevin Huerter joining in to talk with coaches about player development and ask Nash and Parker questions. Reddish and fellow rookie Bruno Fernando spoke in the first two clinics.
Assistant coaches have also helped with the clinics, and Hawks video coordinator Dipesh Mistry cuts clips for Pierce to show as he walks coaches through different strategies and plays.
“To me, this is my job,” Pierce said. “Some people may evaluate me differently, but I evaluate my role and my responsibility as a head coach in terms of leadership. ... It’s not just growing the players on the court, it’s off the court, and I’ve talked about that. I talk about the importance of us going out in our community often, about the importance of us in our roles. We are the basketball community. … We have a responsibility and obligation.”