The Boston Celtics held a pointless press conference on Friday that didn’t do a damn thing to fill in the blanks on its decision to suspend Ime Udoka, the head coach who three months ago took the most successful franchise in NBA history to within two games of its 18th NBA title. The team needs to say more.
Udoka won’t be allowed to coach the Celtics until at least the 2023-24 season, the result of an internal investigation into his allegedly consensual—but nonetheless inappropriate—relationship with an unnamed woman who also works with the team. To be clear, most companies have policies that preclude executives from having undisclosed romantic relationships with subordinates—the idea being that the power imbalance is inherently problematic. If the person you’re involved with has the power to affect your employment, it’s kinda hard to characterize that relationship as entirely consensual.
But that’s where the whole thing goes left for the Celtics, who keep telling us that Udoka’s relationship, was, in fact, consensual, but won’t offer any more details. Privacy concerns notwithstanding, the story has too many holes. Udoka is far from the first coach in any sport to have such a relationship, but none has ever been so publicly outed for it or had their job stripped from them for a full season. The team also said Udoka will suffer a “heavy financial penalty,” and refused to commit to bringing him back as coach next season.
Allow me to forget my grammar, but ain’t no team doing all that to a head coach of a team that’s favored to win it all this year, and just a month before the season starts, if there’s not more to the story.
Team co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said Udoka broke a team rule, which we can assume is one against fraternization, but his vagueness around the suspension says that the Celtics know a lot more than they’re disclosing.
“For privacy reasons, I won’t be able to offer many facts or circumstances around what occurred or why the suspension is in place,” Grousbeck said. It’s an unusual position for him to be in because as even he noted, Grousbeck likes to talk and is generally forthcoming about what’s going on with the team or what’s on his mind. I can personally attest to that, because as a reporter in Boston years ago, I had multiple conversations with him and he never hid much. The Celtics’ investigation over the summer “had some twists and turns,” he said. Maybe one of which was the idea that at least some of what went on wasn’t all that consensual.
Some members of the Celtics organization first became aware of the relationship in July, sources said. At that time, team leadership was led to believe by both parties that the relationship was consensual. But sources said that the woman recently accused Udoka of making unwanted comments toward her—leading the team to launch a set of internal interviews.
Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens both said that the most regrettable part of the whole fiasco was that women inside the Celtics’ organization had had their names and images dragged through Twitter as idiots on that platform fished for clues about who Udoka was involved with. That included a Black woman Celtics exec who I won’t further traumatize by naming here.
The Celtics are right for being concerned about damage to her reputation and about the damage to other women inside their offices. But so far, their public handling of Udoka’s suspension hasn’t exactly been fair to anyone—not the women who’ve had their names tarnished in the information vacuum that the team created, and not even their suspended head coach who, as of this moment, may not have much of a career left to come back to.