Courtside with Aaron: what’s up with the Ime Udoka scandal?

After being suspended for violating team rules, he could be out of a job — despite the fact that his alleged crime lacks the controversy of past offenders

Aaron Rigby, Sports Editor

Courtside with Aaron is a regular column featuring the perspective of Sports Editor Aaron Rigby.

Just one day after learning that their starting center Robert Williams will miss at least eight weeks of basketball activity after undergoing surgery on his knee, Boston Celtics fans were delivered more more devastating news from ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported Celtics head coach Ime Udoka will be facing disciplinary action for an “unspecified violation of organizational guidelines.” 

Wojnarowski also included in the tweet that discussion of the final determination was still ongoing and there was no timetable as to when a decision would be made. This news made many fans wonder how severe Udoka’s actions could have been to deserve the suspension.  

Last season was Udoka’s first year as an NBA head coach, after almost a decade of serving as an assistant coach to teams like the San Antonio Spurs. When he was hired as the Boston Celtics head coach, the media had nothing but good things to say about him, not only as a man but as a coach. It didn’t hurt his resume that he had spent six years of his coaching career alongside Greg Popovich, arguably one of the greatest head coaches the NBA has ever seen. 

Prior to coaching the Celtics, Udoka had one NBA championship under his belt as a coach, which he won as an assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. In his first season as a head coach, he led the Boston Celtics to a berth in the NBA Finals, but fell short to finals MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. 

How could someone so well-respected in the NBA world be facing this kind of charge?

It didn’t take long for NBA fans, or trolls, to make their way to Twitter to voice their thoughts as to why Udoka could be facing a suspension. They made comments such as “He played too much drop coverage,” or “Celtics have been thinking of this ever since Curry had six threes in a quarter lol,” and of course, the comment that never gets old: “How does this affect LeBron’s legacy?” However, not many people thought it could be something serious, and no real speculation could be made until they knew how long the suspension was. 

Less than 24 hours later, Wojnarowski tweeted a link to his ESPN article that included a more detailed explanation of the length and reasoning for the suspension. According to the article, “Boston Celtics head coach ime Udoka is likely facing a suspension for the entire 2022-23 season for his role in an intimate relationship with a female member of the franchise’s staff, sources told ESPN on Thursday.” 

Though the article included how long the suspension was speculated to be for and why, fans were still begging for Wojnarowski to tell them why Udoka was being suspended and how long it would be.

The same day, Wojnarowski tweeted a summary of what was in the article he posted, stating that Udoka is likely facing a suspension for the entire 2022-23 season for partaking in a consensual relationship with a female staff member. This time around, the report’s reception had a more serious tone than the prior reports. 

A wide variety of NBA fans — including myself — wondered why taking part in a consensual relationship would warrant a suspension for an entire season.

At the end of the day, we will never know the exact details that were on the contract when he signed it, or if the organization had told him what may be the punishment for violating team rules like this. However, after hearing some of the things that multiple NBA reporters and sports TV show hosts have said about these types of things being common occurrences in the past, what makes it a problem now?

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went on the air and publicly said that things like this have and still happen commonly today—and have even happened before within the same organization.

“I know a lot of things about the Boston Celtics organization as it pertains to stuff like this that I could repeat,” Smith said. “I know people that have acted up and have had similar situations, nobody’s publicizing it, and that’s within the same damn organization.”

The final piece of information reported by Wojnarowski regards the law firm probe into Udoka; they found “crude language” in the dialogue between Udoka and the female staff member prior to the beginning of their relationship. This reportedly played a significant factor in determining the length of the suspension. In Wojnarowski’s article, he wrote that the Celtics deemed the dialogue concerning because Udoka is a “workplace superior.”

With all of that being said, fans and media have some issues with the way it was handled. If the claims made by people like Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe, whose statements regarding work relationships being swept under the rug by organizations are true, why is this one being pushed to the public?

The Celtics didn’t release a formal statement until the investigation had ended, which means that they now have all of the information that they need to make a final decision of the suspension. So why is it that the original report was made one day, and additional information was not made until the day after, and the next set of information was not reported until a few days later? If the Celtics have all of the information they need and have chosen to go public about it, why are we releasing additional information like we’re waiting for the next episode to air?

Perhaps the best way they could have went about this would be making a simple statement about the situation — something like, “Head coach Ime Udoka will be suspended for the entirety of the 2022-2023 NBA season for his position in a consensual relationship with a co-worker, which violates team policy.”

Another thing that strikes fans the wrong way is that Udoka and Robert Sarver are receiving the same punishment. Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, has been suspended for the entire 2022-23 NBA season for making racist remarks towards people on at least five separate occasions, “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees,” made sex-related comments in workplace, engaged in inappropriate physical conduct towards male employees on multiple occasions and made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees as well as “other women.” 

Although both are situations that should not be condoned at all and participants were rightfully punished for their actions, they do not both deserve the same punishment. Sarver’s crimes were arguably much worse than Udokas. If Udoka’s relationship with the female worker was consensual, then why are the two punishments equal?

The story is still unfolding—there could be more potentially groundbreaking information to come out. However, until then, I do not agree with how the situation was handled; Udoka is wrong for what he did, but he should not be facing the same disciplinary action as Sarver.