It seems the Celtics and Ime Udoka are playing the game of “Who can be most egregious?”
Udoka has damaged his career, hindered the road for aspiring Black NBA head coaches and tainted a franchise with championship aspirations. He participated in a consensual but inappropriate relationship with a Celtics employee.
It isn’t good practice for professional head coaches to pursue relationships with employees. It’s disappointing and disheartening that a man who has preached professionalism, showing up on time, accepting criticism and using it as motivation was living afoul off the court, falling short of the expectations he had for his players.
The one-year suspension is what Udoka has earned and he deserves it. He spent nearly a decade trying to become an NBA head coach, learning from some of the game’s greats, becoming a top candidate, and earning one of the most respected jobs in professional sports. And he does this? A few months after losing in the NBA Finals?
One of the most anticipated seasons in 40 years is now tainted by a coach who acted selfishly and recklessly, choosing his physical desires over maturity, restraint and mental discipline. It’s inexcusable, but eventually forgivable because none of us live in the land of perfection.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are guilty of a different transgression. First, someone from the organization leaked the story to ESPN at nearly 11 p.m. on Wednesday, which was intentional. And then once the specifics surfaced, that Udoka had an inappropriate relationship with a female member of the organization, Twitter gangsters began searching the team’s website for any female-sounding name and suddenly started guessing who was Udoka’s partner.
The most logical choice in their warped minds was Allison Feaster, the Celtics’ vice president of player development and organizational growth. Feaster is a former Harvard star, WNBA player and a stunning Black woman. The natural assumption, because we never wait for facts, was Feaster was the woman Udoka had a relationship with.
Attractive Black man and attractive Black woman have to be fooling around, and for several hours Feaster’s photo was posted on social media as the culprit. It wasn’t her, and the Celtics could have protected her and many other women in their organization by at least releasing a statement offering clarity.
It wouldn’t have saved every woman from scrutiny but at least it would have shown leadership and a strong voice from an organization that apparently prides itself on being the most respected and pristine in professional sports. The Celtics failed Feaster, who likely spent the day avoiding any social media pages and ignoring her direct messages and mentions.
Instead, she is left hanging, like the rest of us who are seeking answers. Professional sports coaches are generally not suspended by their teams, especially for a season. Udoka is hardly the first coach to have a questionable relationship with someone in the organization. He is not the first coach to have a questionable off-court lifestyle.
Udoka released an apologetic statement, accepting blame.
The Celtics didn’t cause this situation. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens made a public appearance Wednesday night at TD Garden, taking photos and chatting with fans at the ABCD Hoop Dreams. He could have backed out. He already knew his head coach was up for a major suspension. Yet, he came in good will, knowing eventually his organization was going to be swimming in chaos.
Blame Udoka for this one. He allowed his ego to consume him, causing him to make a poor decision that could affect many people. The optics are terrible. The Celtics are the main subject of sports talk shows for the wrong reasons and media day to kick off the season is Monday.
Guess how many credential requests the Celtics probably received Thursday for that event? It’s going to be a circus. And the players are going to have to field questions about their coach and then have to address how they plan to adjust and remain a championship contending team.
Suddenly this issue is a topic of discussion, in the news just like the heinous acts of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver. Udoka shared the same negative news cycle as Sarver. It’s embarrassing for an organization that took a chance on a first-time coach and weathered a difficult beginning to his tenure. He rewarded that patience with a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics believed they had their coach for the next decade, but suddenly they don’t. Will Udoka ever coach the Celtics again? It’s impossible to answer that. And the Celtics couldn’t have possibly provided all the answers Thursday, but didn’t have to wait until the 11th hour for a calming response. Their fan base deserved better.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.