c/o USA TODAY Sports

c/o USA TODAY Sports

On the night of Thursday, Sep. 22nd, the Boston Celtics announced that head coach Ime Udoka would be suspended for the entirety of the 2022–23 NBA season. The suspension comes after it was revealed that Udoka had been involved in an intimate relationship with a female Celtics staff member, which violated Boston’s team policy. So what does all this mean for Udoka and the Celtics, and does the punishment fit the crime?

Udoka first arrived on the basketball scene in 2004 as a journeyman player who played for five different teams in his seven-year NBA career. In 2012 he was hired as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, where he stayed under the mentorship of legendary head coach Gregg Popovich until 2019. After two other stints as an assistant coach, he was called upon to become the head coach of the Boston Celtics in June 2021. Under Udoka’s guidance, the Celtics cruised to become the number two seed in the East and dominated the playoffs, eliminating the Nets, Bucks, and Heat in order to make their first NBA Finals since 2010. The Warriors beat Boston in the finals but did not take away their hope for their upcoming future. This anticipation for another Celtics season is the environment under which the news of Udoka’s suspension broke.

The Celtics have done a good job in keeping the anonymity of the female staff member, so we do not have a direct account from her, but several colleagues have spoken out about what they observed. The Celtics staff knew about the relationship as early as July of this year, but did not take action due to a belief it was totally consensual. However, the woman involved recently began to tell others that Udoka was making unwanted comments toward her. This crossed the boundary of an already improper relationship and the Celtics decided to launch an investigation. They concluded that this relationship, which violated several team guidelines, merited a one-year suspension for Udoka effective immediately. 

Since 2009 there have been seven incidents of NBA coach suspensions, the most extreme of which resulted in a three-game suspension issued for a DUI charge. An 82-game suspension is in a whole different league. As we enter an unprecedented situation, it is important to note that this decision will most likely lay the groundwork for similar situations in the future. 

I believe that this suspension is not the right call by the Celtics, and is inherently selfish on the part of the management. Every year several NBA coaches are fired, and it is a rather routine procedure. By suspending Udoka instead of firing him, the Celtics keep him under contract once his suspension is up. This suspension serves their purposes and lets them have the best of both worlds as they seem to have taken the moral high ground but are also able to retain their beloved head coach. 

This decision is also unfair to the female staff member involved with Udoka. When the suspension is up, Udoka will return to work in the same building that she does. With the presence of the problematic power dynamic in the relationship, it most likely took a lot of confidence to speak up about Udoka’s behavior, and the last thing that she would want to do is to see him every day. But if he returns, she will have to either face him and the history that she wants to put behind her, or quit her job. Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

As a result of this news breaking, there was an outpouring of hate towards female members of the Celtics staff. In the online world where privacy and respect are commodities, users have been anonymously calling out female staff members as being hired only because of their gender or falsely accusing them of being the person involved with Udoka. This kind of behavior is despicable and affects the lives of real people, not just personalities on TV. 

Women who either work in the NBA or closely with the organization have already had to speak out about the situation.

Seeing uninvolved people’s names thrown around in the media, including mine, with such carelessness is disgusting,” NBA Sports Boston reporter Amanda Pflugrad said in a recent tweet. “This is a step backwards for women in sports who have worked hard to prove themselves in an industry they deserve to be in.”

With this online response, the inner misogyny of the sports world rears its head. The takeaway of this whole situation should by no means be critical of the presence of women in sports. Women have worked hard to enter a male-dominated field and certainly deserve their positions.

There is not enough information yet to determine whether Udoka should coach in the future. No involved parties have revealed the exact comments or offenses that Udoka made to the female staff member or the details on which the Celtics made their decision. Udoka obviously has the talent to coach for any NBA team, but I believe that, if he coaches again, it should not be for the Celtics.

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu

Comments are closed