The Boston Celtics entered the 2022-23 season as clear favorites to win the NBA title. They had the core, addressed deficiencies during the offseason, and had a clear leader as the season started. Then all hell broke loose.
The reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics suspended coach Ime Udoka after a months-long investigation by an outside law firm that found multiple violations of team policies but did not point to a larger cultural problem of sexual misconduct, owner Wyc Grousbeck said Friday.
“We go to great lengths … to run the organization with the central core value of respect and freedom in the workplace from harassment or any unwelcome attention,” Grousbeck said at a news conference. “This feels very much, to me, like one of a kind. That’s my personal belief. But I’ll have to verify that.”
Neither Grousbeck nor president of basketball operations Brad Stevens would elaborate on the specifics of the violations or the private report that was delivered to the team two days ago. But a person with knowledge of the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the details were not made public, told The Associated Press that it involved an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the organization.
— Associated Press, 9/23/22
Not to make light of anything inappropriate and/or possibly adulterous, but this whole situation could have been handled better. It’s not like the Boston Celtics were in uncharted waters navigating through a sex scandal. There are dozens of politicians, executives, entertainers who’ve been busted, maybe took a leave of absence, and eventually went right back to work.
But not the Celtics. They are in Boston surrounded by woke media writers who demanded a head on a spike for the indiscretion. The Celtics “zero tolerance” policy is one that would have been ignored by almost every political and business institution in the country. It certainly would have negotiated-down yet, ironically, it was a mostly white Boston sports media who went out of their way to make sure the city and nation knew Udoka’s actions would not be tolerated. There would be no insufficient multi-game suspension.
Ime Udoka had to go and the Celtics, very publicly, fired him.
Udoka connected with his young players because he was himself a former player of 12 years, among which he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings. He was later an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets before being hired as the head coach of the Boston Celtics in 2021. In his first year with the Celtics, they came within two wins of winning the NBA title. The 2022-23 was expected to be very special.
Instead, he was seemingly banished from his profession for committing a selectively-enforced ultimate crime against women. Instead of a team suspension, an example was made of him in Boston and Udoka was shown the door. The Celtics gave the keys of the car to Joe Mazzulla, a 34-year-old with zero NBA head coaching experience.
That didn’t sit well with many people within and outside of the organization and the double standard was obvious to anyone with a set of functioning eyes, especially when ominous clouds hovered over the team during the NBA Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
I have said it countless times over these airwaves and I’ll repeat it one last time. All of us in this business know plenty of folks in the world of sports or sports teams that had stuff going on in the office. It was an HR matter. We know people who have been fired for the same thing. We never heard a word. But now, everybody knows what Ime Udoka did because of the way the Boston Celtics handled it.
— Steven A. Smith, ESPN First Take, 5/22/23
Smith reminded his audience that mistakes the inexperienced Mazzulla made during the playoffs were ones his head coach predecessors in Boston would have not have made. Clearly preparation was lacking and while “living in the moment” sounded cute, there is no substitute for preparing a team for “situations” that only experience brings.
His players, also muzzled by the politically correct shroud in Boston, let glimpses of the frustration slip, especially when the unmentionable happened as the playoff were set to begin: Ime Udoka was hired to be the new head coach of the Houston Rockets.
The hiring comes nearly three months after the Boston Celtics suspended and dismissed Udoka for an improper workplace relationship, a situation the Rockets investigated with the league office and with the Celtics, among others, before making the job offer, sources told ESPN.
The hiring is a coup for Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who helped sell Udoka on the franchise’s young talent, salary cap space and chance at winning the draft lottery and selecting generational talent Victor Wembanyama.
“Ime’s intelligence, drive and toughness were the traits we were looking for in a coach to lead our team through this next stage of our development as we strive to become a champion,” Stone said in a statement. “We were honored to have the opportunity to speak to multiple outstanding candidates throughout the interview process and felt that Ime’s vision best aligned with the goals the Fertitta Family and myself have for the future of the Rockets.”
— ESPN, 4/24/23
Obviously, “Ime’s intelligence, drive and toughness” was something missing on the Celtics bench during the season and especially when it was needed most: during the NBA Playoffs where the they were pushed to Game 7 twice against teams they should have easily beaten. Udoka’s hiring couldn’t have come at a worse time for the younger players on his former team trying to make a playoff run without him.
This locker room never got over Ime Udoka’s dismissal as head coach These players did not accept the organization’s reasoning for doing it. They thought it was a wild overreaction. There were a lot of the people on the outside who thought it was an overreaction. That it was an HR matter. This team talking with management never got any more answers than the public was getting on this. That doesn’t mean they haven’t accepted Joe Mazzulla as head coach, but this is a team that really believed in Ime Udoka and had a strong connection with him.
— Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN, 5/22/23
But none of that mattered to the Celtics organization.
The Boston Globe had to be reassured. The liberal academics and institutions that pepper Boston like chicken pox had to be placated. The social elite and activists, many of whom don’t even know Boston has a basketball team or anything about the sport, had to be made to feel safe. And the team had to shut up and deal with it.
In the end, Steven A Smith had it right. Justice was served on the Boston Celtics organization. The team not only lost their last playoff game of the season, but it came in a humiliating fashion for all the world to see.
The team and their fans had to suffer and it was for a greater good, right?