Here’s what we’ve learned in the last 36 hours about the events that led to the one-year suspension of Boston Celtics coach Ima Udoki, in order:
- Wednesday night ESPN This was announced by Adrian Wojnarowski. that Udoka faces “possible disciplinary action, including a serious suspension, for an unspecified violation of organizational rules.” Voinarovsky later added that Udoka’s work would not be endangered.
- Later that night Shams Charania from Athletic tweeted that Udoka “had inappropriate, consensual intimate relationships with a woman on the team.” Except that by the next evening Charanya reported that the relationship may not have been as consensual. âTeam management was convinced by both parties that the relationship was based on mutual consent,â Charania writes. “But sources said a woman recently accused Udoka of making unsolicited comments directed at her, prompting the team to begin a series of internal interviews.”
- At a Friday morning press conference, Celtics majority owner Vic Groesbeck offered few details, but told reporters that a months-long investigation uncovered “many wrongdoings.”
NBA fans are accustomed to this kind of dynamic, with slow streams of vague messages fueling widespread speculation. This usually happens with trading and free agency. But it has other implications when it comes to workplace misconduct. The vacuum-hating Internet was teeming with sordid theoriesâor, as team president Brad Stevens put it, âTwitter speculation and rampant bullshitââabout the identity of the woman. One Thursday LandscapeMark Spears felt it necessary to debunk the popular theory by tweeting that one of the employees was not involved.
There is so much we don’t know yet. The Celtics had little to say in their Friday morning press conference. âI cannot provide many additional facts or circumstances related to what happened and why it was suspended,â Groesbeck said. There may be legal reasons for this approach, as Groesbeck added that âthe privacy reasons of the people involved are a concern. I really have to leave you with the wording of our statement, which was admittedly pretty clear.” At least they were transparent about how vague they were.
Privacy is important, but who is it protecting here? Certainly not the women whose names have been covered in mud on the Internet. It’s tempting to say that this doesn’t concern anyone else. But as head coach, Udoka wields tremendous power. No one other than maybe Stevens or the ownership group could be considered his equal in the Celtics hierarchy. When someone like him is implicated in an investigation that suggests he may have abused that power, the right to privacy clashes with the importance of transparency.
The Celtics are asking us to trust them to balance these competing factors and trust that only those factors count. They also ask us to trust their judgment on the one-year suspension and on the character of interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, who was arrested on charges of domestic battery in 2009. “I strongly believe it probably shaped him into who he is today, in a really good way,” Stephens said Friday of Mazzulla’s arrest. âBut he will be the first to tell you that he is 110 percent responsible for this, and I will be the first to tell you that I believe in it.â
It’s hard to trust the NBA, where privacy often protects the powerful. Robert Sarver’s recent saga highlights the power of transparency. After he was suspended for one year and fined $10 million for 18 years of misogyny and racism, the league released an investigation. It was read by fans, players, league staff and sponsors. Their outrage was the catalyst for Sarver to agree to sell the team.
The Celtics avoided league interference by hiring a law firm of their choice to initiate an investigation, only to raise more questions in the process. As with the Suns last season, the specter of what we don’t know could hang over Boston’s season. As of now, the Celtics are undecided on Udoka’s future beyond next year. Mazzulla will run a coaching staff that has lost its chief assistant Will Hardy with nebulous power, and he will move to Utah just when they need him most. Robert Williams III will miss the next eight to twelve weeks after another knee surgery, six months after the first procedure. This is unprecedented territory, and the Celtics are figuring out how to deal with it on the fly.
“This [punishment] seems right, but there are no clear guidelines for all of this, âGrowsbeck said. âIt’s a really conscious, intuitive feeling and being here for 20 years. I am responsible for the decision, ultimately. It was not clear what to do, but it was clear that something significant had to be done, and it was done.â
Until we know more, we have no choice but to take his word for it.