Lloyd Pierce has learned a lot about himself in 2020.
The Atlanta Hawks head coach has slowly gone from someone whose curiosity of studying the Black history of Atlanta to someone whose knowledge prepared him to become a public figure who’s taken the lead in today’s history in Atlanta.
Pierce, who told reporters during a Wednesday Zoom press conference he’s always tried to give the media well-thought responses, gave arguably his most honest media availability session to a group of local reporters this week at the start of the Hawks’ voluntary mini camp.
“I thought I was hired into a leadership position with the Atlanta Hawks. This is a different leadership position I’ve been called to in the offseason,” Pierce said. “I’ve done way more interviews, way more speaking engagements, I’ve spoken to every head coach moreso than I’ve done in my 13 years in the last three months.”
One of the latest moments Pierce made a public appearance was in August, when Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins presented a $12,000 check to the family of Matthew Rushin, an austic Black man in his early 20s, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for a traffic violation. Rushin’s mom claim the police on the scene took advantage of Rushin because of his disability and his skin color. Wilkins’ donation to the Rushin family was made on behalf of the #dunkanddonate fundraiser Wilkins held online in collaboration with KultureCity to develop a defense fund to represent individuals with disabilities in the court of law.
In the moment Wilkins delivered the check to Rushin’s mother, she instantly became emotional with Pierce present at the end of the table.
Thanks to all that have #dunkanddonate for the WAB disability legal defense fund! You helped us help #FreeMatthewRushin family! Special thanks to @garyvee @marcuslemonis @AndrewYang @kenjeong @DanielPlatzman @JasonIsbell @RealMickFoley @RedHourBen @briankoppelman pic.twitter.com/kooWgTsCCA— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) August 26, 2020
Wilkins asked if Pierce could show up to the Rushin-family donation.
Perhaps the first shift that occurred from Pierce that unfolded publicly in 2020 was sharing the story of losing his cousin to a helicopter crash in 1998. It was the first time the head coach shared the story publicly, and he during the pregame availability of the day the basketball world figuratively stopped on Jan. 26 - when Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and six other passengers died in a helicopter crash.
Fast forward to the international protests that took place in wake of George Floyd’s death. On June 1, it was announced Pierce was selected to be on the NBCA’s “Committee on Racial Injustice and Reform.”
Pierce said Hawks CEO Steve Koonin fed him the idea of turning State Farm Arena into a polling location. Pierce took the idea and made it public at the NAACP protest on June 15. Fourteen days later, State Farm Arena was announced to become the largest voting precinct in Georgia.
2020 brought the year the world lost Joseph E. Lowery and Rep. John Lewis, two civil rights icons Pierce developed relationships with since taking the job in 2018. In the wake of Lewis’ death, Pierce wrote a piece on the Player’s Tribune detailing how their lives changed the trajectory of his career mission outside of basketball.
Although Pierce has previously said the feeling of not seeing what many citizens may feel like is justice being served is not new for him as a Black man, the hard-hitting realities of 2020 have placed him a position to get a new perspective on leadership.
“Working on yourself and understanding what your ultimate purpose is [important],” Pierce said. “One day, the Atlanta Hawks are going to say ‘we’re going to move on.’ Nothing changes with me now, I have a different sense of purpose about what leadership really looks like. When you’re charged with something that’s greater than yourself, and you embrace that, that’s leadership. How do you get your guys to buy into it? That’s something I’m working on.”
In Pierce’s honest media availability session this week, he said he blew some calls as a second-year head coach in the NBA. He also re-visited the misconception his philosophies are the reason why the Hawks finished last in the league in points allowed in the 2019-20 season.
Prior to coming to Atlanta, Pierce was known as the Philadelphia 76ers’ defensive specialist as an assistant on the staff. The 76ers finished the 2017-18 fourth in defensive rating, per basketball reference. Philadelphia slipped to 15th in the category in the first season without Pierce. The topic came about while discussing Clint Capela’s focus on defense.
“It isn’t schemes, I tell you guys that all the time, you can have the greatest schemes in the world and then take it to a different team and those schemes don’t work,” Pierce said. “It really isn’t the schemes, it’s the effort. It’s the commitment, it’s the ability to work as a unit. I love the fact [Capela] is really empowering the voice moreso than the coverage, and that’s going to be tremendous for us moving forward.”
There was a pause, before Pierce ended arguably his most honest media session with arguably his most honest response in his tenure in Atlanta.
“You guys think I’m a sh---y defensive coach, and I’m doing the same thing,” Pierce said. “It’s just about defense. Nothing has changed, you just have to adapt to your team, adapt to your personnel and you’ve got to figure out how to get these guys to adapt to each other. It takes time, and even with Clint. Even though he uses his voice, he still has to get used to who he’s talking to and how they respond and react to him. They’ve got to get used to talking to him and what they want for him to do.
“This is the beauty of these weeks. These two weeks that we have, they’re just going to get to talk to each other. They’re going to get to be around each other, and they’re going to get something out of that.”
The Hawks began the two-week mini-camp on Sept. 23 and are all staying at a hotel in Atlanta for the practices.