PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — Doc Rivers wore a dark gray polo shirt and black pants because, he said, all his suits were still back in Boston, where he had planned to be, too.
In fact, Rivers said he went so far as to pull himself out of the negotiations between the Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers as they dragged on for about two weeks.
“I called Danny [Ainge] and said, ‘Listen, I’m staying. I’m coming back. I’m coaching. That’s what I am. And let’s move forward,’ ” Rivers said here Wednesday, when the Clippers introduced him as head coach and vice president of basketball operations.
Then, two hours later, Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, called.
“No, you’re not staying,” Ainge said, according to Rivers. “You’re going.”
What happened in those two hours? The Clippers met the Celtics’ asking price of a first-round draft pick in exchange for letting Rivers escape his contract, which had three seasons left.
All that was left was the final paperwork, and when the ink dried, it marked the end to what Rivers called a “strange ordeal,” though it’s unclear who pushed more for it — him or the Celtics.
However, Rivers finally shared his side of the story Wednesday about why his nine-season tenure in Boston reached an abrupt end this week.
“My decision was never to leave and go to another team and coach,” he told the Globe during a quiet moment in the corner of the Clippers’ practice facility.
“It was, ‘Do I want to coach or not?’ That was it. I just needed time.”
He contemplated taking time off to broadcast and travel around to watch other coaches. Once the Clippers job became a possibility, though, Rivers decided he was going to coach in LA or Boston, an option he saw as “win-win.”
But Rivers said his weeks of silent deliberating is “why Danny wanted to look around, to make sure [and see] if there’s other ways to get me interested or use me as an asset.
“I told Danny, I said, ‘Use me.’ ”
The unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick the Celtics received from the Clippers is certainly a valuable asset that will help the team rebuild.
“I wasn’t going to [leave] if it wasn’t right for Danny, Wyc [Grousbeck], and their group,” he said in a conference call with Boston media. “It’s not like they didn’t get anything out of it.”
In an e-mail, Grousbeck wrote, “No questions about it, this was not the team’s idea, or our first choice. But over time we realized it made sense because he had indicated his ambivalent feelings and we were in the situation we were in. So we could have said no to the Clippers and so could he. But we let him pursue his wish.”
Rivers was no doubt intrigued by the idea of coaching a contender. “Quite honestly, at this point in my life, that’s the only reason I’m coaching, is to try to win titles,” he said.
Rivers was also intrigued with the chance to have more power in the front office.
“For me, you coach your whole career and you don’t get that opportunity,” said Rivers. “I thought it was one I had to take.”
The Clippers had been targeting Rivers for some time, in no small part because Chris Paul, who is a threat to sign elsewhere once he becomes a free agent, wanted Rivers in LA.
But since Rivers was under contract, how did the Clippers know he was available?
“I just had a sense that if we stayed after this, it could work out,” Clippers president Andy Roeser said, rather cryptically.
Talks were on and off, but never more so than Sunday.
Rivers was in Florida, watching his youngest son, Spencer, play in an AAU game at around 10 a.m. Sitting in a parking lot, Rivers called Ainge before the game.
“This is all over, let’s get back to rebuilding our team,” Rivers recalled saying.
And, according to Rivers, Ainge replied, “That sounds great.” “Well,” Ainge added, “what if the Clippers call again?” “Well,” Rivers replied, “figure it out.”
Rivers turned his phone off, as he does when he watches his children play sports.
A couple hours later, Rivers kicked his phone back on and saw that Ainge had tried to call a few times and that Rivers’s agent, Lonnie Cooper, had tried to call as many as 15 times.
Rivers thought that was strange. He made a call. He was told the deal was done.
“Wow, that’s amazing,” he said, rather stunned. His emotions were scattered. He was happy the Celtics would receive a first-round pick, but it all hadn’t sunk in yet.
But when Rivers signed his five-year extension in 2011, he spoke of loyalty to the Celtics, of being committed to the rebuild and not leaving to chase a title elsewhere. What changed?
“I just felt like I needed a change from a challenge standpoint,” he said. “As a coach, you don’t want to feel you’re just there.”
And as good as his relationship with Ainge was, Rivers said both understood that Rivers’s $7-million-per-year salary — the richest for a coach in the NBA — was a mighty expensive one to lead a rebuilding team.
Ownership relayed that point to Rivers, the coach said, telling him it really did want him to stay but that it would also pursue assets, such as a first-round pick, for him as well.
Rivers said he will probably hire most of his assistants from Boston. League sources said Kevin Eastman and Tyronn Lue would likely join Rivers’s staff.
Rivers said he has reached out to several of his ex-players in Boston and that the talks were cordial, including with Rajon Rondo, with whom Rivers had a bumpy relationship that some believed was reason enough for Rivers to leave.
“I did not want to leave because I did not want to coach Rondo, that’s silly,” he said.
Simply, Rivers said, “At times, you just feel like your gig’s up. And I really felt that.”
Some Celtics fans feel scorned. “Listen, I gave them all the love and I still feel like I’m a part of it and that will never leave,” said Rivers.
“When you win a title in a town, that never goes away. Those memories don’t go away.”
Rivers said he wants to make one point clear, though.
“This wasn’t me just bolting because I just said, ‘I’m out of here,’ ” he said. “This just wasn’t that. I don’t want it to be portrayed like that.”
What it was, he said, was an opportunity too good to pass up. “Anybody in their right mind who said they wouldn’t have looked at this is not being honest,” he said.
Though his stay in Boston, a city he said he fell very much in love with, reached an unexpected end (at least for now), Rivers said he hopes the people will remember him like this:
“I hope they’ll remember me as somebody that gave that city everything they had.”