Doc Rivers faced the Sterling controversy head-on last weekend. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

Doc Rivers found himself in an unprecedented spot last week, trying to stabilize a Los Angeles Clippers team that was rocked by owner Donald Sterling’s comments in the midst of a tough first-round NBA playoff series.

“This was a distraction,” Rivers told Michael Wilbon in an ESPN Sunday conversation. “In our first meeting after the tapes came out and we had a meeting before practice and when I walked in that room and looked at [the players’] faces, it was bothering them. They were angry. They wanted to do something. We had to go to practice that first day. … As a coach, I had to think about it. I’m not going to kid you. I walked out with my gear on because I needed the players to see me with the gear on, but it wasn’t easy to do it on that day. Because at that moment, at that time, you’re representing something else and you didn’t want to and that was hard.”

Rivers addressed one of the most-often discussed issues involving Sterling: How the owner, who had been involved in harassment and discrimination issues his entire tenure, could have lasted so long and how he and his players could have been oblivious.

“We’ve heard the stories, but we never heard it [first-hand]. We never saw it,” Rivers said. “It was never on tape. Once it became on tape, then you have proof.”

The owner drew a firestorm of criticism that ended with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banning him and urging owners to press him to sell the team. Players considered boycotting the playoff game, then opted to protest by turning their warmups inside out.

“I grew up in the ’60s as a child at Proviso East [High School], which was on ’60 Minutes’ in the ’60s because of racial acts,” Rivers said. “… And the blacks walked on one side and the whites walked on the other side and they were throwing stuff back and forth. And I used to sit there and watch them do it and think, ‘What are they mad at it?’ I remember asking my dad, ‘What are they mad at?’ And he used to say, ‘They don’t know. They just don’t know.’ ”