[On Nov. 9, the Nets announced Jacque Vaughn as Brooklyn’s head coach]
I am so tired of people not being held accountable for their actions.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Tuesday that Steve Nash is out as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets and suspended Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka has emerged as a strong front-runner to replace him.
When I saw the news develop, my heart sank. And then, I was angry.
Angry like in 2021, when the Portland Trail Blazers hired new head coach Chauncey Billups, who in 1997 was accused of raping a woman while he played for the Celtics and who later “agreed to pay the unidentified woman an undisclosed sum,” according to the Boston Herald. Or that same summer when Jason Kidd was hired by the Dallas Mavericks as their head coach despite his 2001 domestic violence charge for which he pleaded guilty to hitting his now ex-wife. Or when an independent probe was launched into the Mavericks after Sports Illustrated detailed sexual harassment and a hostile workplace for women.
And how could I possibly ignore the Cleveland Browns giving a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract to bring in three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, following accusations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by more than 20 massage therapists? Or the countless other times I was made angry by similar news.
When Udoka was suspended in September as a result of having an intimate relationship with a female member of the Celtics organization, I was shocked. Finally, a team handled a situation of this degree fairly and relatively swiftly.
The Celtics front office determined Udoka’s actions were unacceptable, and he was unfit to coach the team he had just led to the NBA Finals. They suspended the second-year coach for the entirety of the 2022-23 season.
Or so I thought.
Fast-forward not even six weeks, and the news breaking that Udoka could soon be in a position of power again in the NBA. As I drove home from Cleveland Cavaliers practice on Tuesday, all I could think about were those involved.
Does anyone care about the women in the Celtics organization? The woman who came forward and those who were unfairly dragged by an onslaught of Twitter trolls trying to identify the aggrieved female subordinate? At least president of basketball operations Brad Stevens spoke out.
“We have a lot of talented women in our organization,” Stevens said in his news conference on Sept. 23. “I thought yesterday was hard on them. Nobody can control Twitter speculation … but I do think that we as an organization have a responsibility to make sure we’re there to support them now. Because a lot of people were dragged unfairly into that.”
The same team that said it supported its female staff members a month ago permitted the Nets to interview Udoka. By declining Brooklyn’s request, Boston could have ensured the one-year suspension was in place. Instead, the Celtics turned their backs on those very employees whom they said they’d protect.
If the hiring does go through and Udoka once again has to answer questions in a news conference, how could it affect the female staffer involved? She could have to relive all of this and worry about the possible risk of being identified.
And what about the Nets? Did they even think about the women who work in their organization and how they would be affected by such a hire? Hiring Udoka is a slap in the face to all of those women and women everywhere.
Udoka is reportedly on the verge of being awarded the same job in a different organization, not even two months into his suspension. His potential hire also comes on the heels of the Nets’ — and quite frankly, the NBA’s — poor handling of Kyrie Irving after he tweeted and posted on Instagram an Amazon link for a 2018 film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” that includes anti-Semitic tropes.
Nets owner Joe Tsai tweeted on Oct. 28, “I’m disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of anti-Semitic disinformation. I want to sit down and make sure he understands this is hurtful to all of us, and as a man of faith, it is wrong to promote hate based on race, ethnicity or religion.”
He threaded that tweet with a second response, which read: “This is bigger than basketball.”
Yeah, and so is this situation.
The NBPA issued a statement on Tuesday condemning hate speech and anti-Semitism but did not name Irving, who serves on the board as one of six vice presidents. The statement read: “Anti-Semitism has no place in our society. The NBPA is focused on creating an environment where everyone is accepted. We are committed to helping players fully understand that certain words can lead to hateful ideologies being spread. We will continue to work on identifying and combating all hate speech wherever it arises.”
The Irving-Udoka issues are inextricably entangled in that they both involve the Nets and send a strong message, but it’s one the Nets should not be proud of.
The other entity in this conversation is the league. How does the NBA, with the information from the Celtics’ investigation, not step in and stop this hire? What does this truly say about the NBA — which owns the WNBA and strives to be a forward-thinking league?
If the league is OK with this hire, does that undermine the Celtics’ decision to suspend Udoka? What is the message they are sending to the aggrieved woman and her colleagues?
The NBA has spoken for years about making sure women work in safe environments without fearing harassment. It has league-wide programs already in place that focus on the prohibition of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
But the NBA hasn’t taken a hard enough stance to support women. That can change, starting with the league stepping in to make sure Udoka serves his time and is not rewarded with another head coaching position, thereby undermining women. Female staff members should know that their concerns are taken seriously, and the league has an opportunity to finally get it right.
On Tuesday, Nets general manager Sean Marks held a news conference in Brooklyn and shared what he was looking for in the next head coach. His response?
“A leader,” he said. “We’re looking for that for our group. We’re looking for somebody to have poise, charisma, accountability.”
It’s not too late for Marks and the Nets to practice what they preach.
(Photo of Ime Udoka: Elsa / Getty Images)