They faced each other, the father sporting a white dress shirt and sleek suit, the son in a picnic-blanket button-down with a red tie matching the checkers on his chest. The father palmed the son’s head in a tender embrace before releasing his second-youngest to a wide-brimmed teal baseball cap, a short walk to the Prudential Center stage, and his professional future.
In Newark Thursday night, the New Orleans Hornets drafted Austin Rivers 10th overall in the NBA draft, 29 years to the day after his father, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, was picked 31st overall by Atlanta.
When commissioner David Stern announced his name, the former Duke guard made his way through the procedural hug channel, and ended on his father.
“This is a dream for him,” said Doc Rivers, during a conference call. “It’s funny. I’ve been in the league so long, and even though [Hornets general manager] Dell Demps said they got him, I still didn’t believe it until David Stern said his name.
“I’m just a proud father.’’
The moment was long in the making, and not just since Austin became the first freshman to lead Duke in scoring since Johnny Dawkins in 1983. Perhaps this was fate, preordained from the time of the grainy photo that ESPN flashed on the screen, the image of Doc cradling his newborn son.
The massive hype started following Rivers when he began playing at 6 years old, the kind that comes with being the son of an All-Star point guard and an even better NBA coach.
“Without him, I don’t know where I would be,” Austin said. “My dad’s taught me so much, put in the time, even though with his busy schedule. Him and my mom and my whole family.”
Rivers will join top pick Anthony Davis on the Hornets, giving them a dynamic inside-out combo of 19-year-olds. They will play under coach Monty Williams, one of Doc’s good friends since they played together with the Knicks in 1994 and San Antonio in 1996. Doc also coached Williams in Orlando.
“I couldn’t have picked a better guy to coach my son,” Doc said.
Rivers, who became just the third one-and-done player in Duke history, cemented his collegiate legacy against North Carolina on Feb. 8, when he boldly stared down Tar Heels center Tyler Zeller and splashed the winning 3-pointer over the 7-footer.
But what critics have deemed a questionably cocksure attitude, Austin calls confidence.
“I think all good players have that,” he said. “I just try to go out there and compete. What people say, they’re going to say.”
He was just the seventh freshman in ACC history to earn first-team all-conference honors. But his ephemeral tenure in Durham, N.C., ended in bitter fashion with a historic 75-70 loss in the NCAA Tournament to 15th-seeded Lehigh. The decision to leave Duke was his own.
“It is more of me wanting to play in the NBA,” Austin said. “I think people get caught up so much in that I am already financially set, or I am already this and already that. I am not financially set. My dad is, and I have zero dollars in my bank account.
“My parents want me to do what’s best for me.”
Predraft rumors swirled of Boston’s interest to trade up to pick Austin, a deal that would likely have entailed packaging the 21st and 22d overall picks. The Celtics instead held onto those selections, using them to draft Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Syracuse center Fab Melo. Doc Rivers said the Celtics “couldn’t even come close” to trading up, regardless of their intended target.
“I’m mad at him right now,” Austin told ESPN with a smile.
Now there will be a much-anticipated matchup between father and son.
“It’s going to be fun when I go up against him,” Austin said. “It is going to be competitive and it’s going to be for rights to the house.
“When I beat him, I am going to talk a lot of trash to him and tell him it’s my time now. It is going to be tough, because the Celtics are so good and I know my dad is going to do something to mess with me. That will be interesting because we are both so competitive.”