During his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan Show today, Celtics coach Doc Rivers addressed questions regarding Kevin Garnett’s dispute with the Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who tweeted yesterday that Garnett said he looked like a “cancer patient” during a trash-talking tirade in Tuesday night’s game. Garnett later issued a statement that his comment “was in fact, ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league.’”
“After a game… I played the game. I couldn’t imagine someone going to the press after the game because someone said something to you on the floor,” Rivers said. “That’s an unwritten rule that I thought that we didn’t cross, and we did that the other night…”
“What he [Garnett] said on the other end and I can’t vouch for but, yelling from our bench, anybody on our bench can hear him yell, ‘You’re a cancer, you’re a cancer,’ and you know trash talking happens so much in a game, and the way to handle it is you play them the next time and you try to beat them. That’s the way we’ve always handled it.”
Rivers was asked if he thought Garnett’s “cancer” comments were inappropriate. “The only thing I thought, and I told Kevin this, is ‘why are you talking to him?’, Rivers said. “And you can actually see me yelling at Kevin because he got the double-tech…”
Later Rivers was asked more specifically if it was OK to make fun of Villanueva because he has no hair. Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a medical condition that results in hair loss.
“Yeah, I mean, I guess,” Rivers said. “People make fun of people about anything in our league. The funny thing is the Villanueva thing, when I read about that he had a form of cancer, I would say that’s the first time I ever heard it, would have never known it… I don’t think anybody on our team knew of the disease that he had, I can guarantee you I didn’t and so that’s why I think it’s a little far-fetched. I don’t think Kevin is doing research before games so he can trash talk to people.”
Rivers later detailed the comments that he overheard from the Celtics bench.
“They had been talking all game, which is nothing unusual, but in front of the bench…when they got the tech, Kevin was out of the game and he looked over at the bench and you can hear Kevin yelling, ” You’re a cancer. You’re a cancer. Everywhere you go, your team loses. You’re a cancer’. And so, other than that, if he walked out, and if he had walked out on the floor and said ‘You’re a cancer patient’ now, which I didn’t hear that, or if he had said it earlier, I still would have thought he still meant the same thing. So that’s the way I took it. That’s the way our guys took it. I can hear them in the locker room talking about it.”
When asked if Villanueva had earned the reputation of being “cancerous” to his team. “Listen, I have no idea,” Rivers said. “In Kevin’s mind, I guess yes and Paul and them were saying it started when he didn’t run out the ball for one of his shots and was complaining and that’s when Kevin called him a cancer.”
“People are going to take sides,” Rivers said. “Kevin has a reputation, he does talk a lot, there’s no doubt about that, but I do think people don’t want that stuff going on, the players absolutely don’t want what’s said on the floor to now start to spread out on tweeter [sic]. Otherwise, we’ll be reading stuff every day.”
Rivers was asked if Garnett goes over the line with his trash talk during games. “Yeah I think he goes over the line at times when he’s talking to guys he shouldn’t talk to,” Rivers said. “I don’t know what’s being said, and I tell him that all the time. There’s a group you’re above, if you know what I’m saying. Why exchange with them? All you’re doing is giving them ammunition. You can’t benefit from talking to some guys.”
Rivers, who said he did not like players tweeting about the games, was asked if he knew how to stop it. “No. I can go in and say ‘hey guys, let’s make a rule that there’s no tweeting, that’s nothing I’m going to do,” he said. “And the tweeting thing, that doesn’t bother me, it’s what we’re tweeting about. That bothers me.”
Late yesterday, Garnett issued a statement that did not match Villanueva’s version of the exchange:
“I am aware there was a major miscommunication regarding something I said on the court last night. My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact, ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league.’
“I would never be insensitive to the brave struggle that cancer patients endure. I have lost loved ones to this deadly disease and have a family member currently undergoing treatment. I would never say anything that distasteful. The game of life is far bigger than the game of basketball.”