by Kevin O'Neill
David Rivers scored 2,058 points during his college career, sixth on Notre Dame’s illustrious list; and he is fifth on the assists list behind Chris Thomas, Tory Jackson, Jerian Grant, and Eric Atkins despite playing in an era when 30-game seasons, including the NCAA Tournament, were rare.
Rivers also ranks among Notre Dame’s leaders in three point shooting (twelfth, 40.6%), free throw shooting (eighth, 81.3%), and steals (fourth, 201). He was named team MVP four times.
Those statistics are the primary reason David Rivers will be inducted into Notre Dame’s Ring of Honor at halftime of the Syracuse game on Saturday; but statistics aren’t why I remember David Rivers’ game. I remember the shake.
I remember Rivers’ burst of speed from standing dribble to layup that left the most befuddled looks I’ve ever seen on defenders’ faces. I remember him on the break, just as fast with the ball as he was without it. I remember him twisting around bigger men in the lane and finishing the move with a layup banked gently off the glass.
Rivers fooled everyone on the court, even referees. When he was called for travelling in a game against DePaul, a young analyst named Doug Collins protested the call. “You have to watch his feet,” Collins said, “not his hips.”
More to the Story
Sunday, August 24th, 1986. 1:00 AM. Recently graduated Irish basketball player Ken Barlow was driving his van on a two lane road in Elkhart County. Rivers was in the passenger seat.
According to the late Bill Jauss’ article in the Chicago Tribune, “Barlow told Elkhart County Sheriff`s police that he swerved his van to avoid hitting an oncoming car. The van went off the roadway, hit an embankment, rolled over several times and stopped 89 feet from the road, police said. Rivers was cut when thrown through the van`s windshield.”
There were no cell phones in those days. Barlow had to wake the residents of a nearby home and convince them to let him phone for help while Rivers lay injured at the scene of the crash.
Rivers suffered a one foot cut across his stomach that exposed numerous abdominal organs. He was expected to miss at least the first month of the basketball season, possibly the entire season. He did not miss a game. He did not miss a beat.
Rivers played 32 games in the 1986-87 season. He averaged 36.8 minutes of playing time, 15.7 points, and 5.1 assists. He made a career high 45.3% of his shots from the field. He could not have been 100% at any point during that season, but he played like the All-American he was.
Rivers was taken 25th in the NBA draft by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. His NBA career was brief. Maybe things would have been different if he had been drafted by a team that needed a point guard, but that team was not the Lakers. They had this Johnson fellow handling the ball.
After bouncing between the CBA and the NBA for a few years, Rivers signed with Antibes in the French professional A league for the 1993-94 season, the first of ten successful seasons in Europe. He was a five time league all-star, was voted all-star MVP of the French A league in 1995; was a four time Euro all-star and was the European MVP in 1997. He starred for three league champions including Olympiacos Pireus, which went on to win the 1997 Euro Cup championship. Excelling to the very end of his career, he was named Turkish League MVP in 1999.
Antibes enshrined Rivers in its hall of fame, but perhaps his greatest honor was the respect of his fellow players. He was named Chairman of the American International Players Association in 2000. Rivers’ career in Europe was impactful in every way.
Ring of Honor
Notre Dame will honor David Rivers when his jersey #4 is raised to Purcell Pavilion’s rafters on Saturday. His induction into the Ring of Honor is well deserved, well earned. When you watch the introductory video, there is no longer a need to watch his feet. Watch the shake.