Despite being embroiled in two of the biggest scandals to hit sports in the last few years, Robert Sarver and Brett Favre woke up happy this morning. Why? Because they knew that a Black man had blown them and their transgressions off the front of sports pages and websites.
That man is Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, 45, who took his team to the NBA Finals last season in his first year with thesquad. He will potentially be suspended for at least this season for what has been deemed ‘an inappropriate, consensual, intimate relationship” with at least one woman who works for the team.
After news of the potential suspension was shared by ESPN, Black Twitter immediately questioned Udoka’s judgment given that his very public longtime girlfriend is actress/Black royalty Nia Long. The 51-year-old is among the reigning queens of MILF-dom and Black Twitter came through in her defense.
By now we should know that beyond carefully crafted Instagram posts of communal bliss, celebrity couples have their ups and downs and outright dysfunctions just like anyone else. It’s impossible to know what’s going on in someone else’s intimate relationship, so for all we know, the unmarried couple has broken up, has been going through changes, or was keeping up a façade of togetherness strictly for the benefit of their mutual careers. While we acknowledge that Nia has held her place as an authorized baddie for decades, when has being gorgeous ever stopped a cheater?
Nah, the real question is: how do you blow a bag this big?
When women consider these scenarios, we always wonder how men can be this stupid. It’s one thing to have urges and attractions, flirt, and maybe even a hold a stray gaze just a little too long in a meeting, or send a text that could be construed in a number of different ways. There are office wives and husbands who may be close in the context of the office or become a designated seat, meal, or bar stool partner on work trips, but no one crosses the line, because there’s just too much at stake.
Unconfirmed reports are now saying that there may be more than one woman and that one of the women is married to someone high up in the Celtics organization.
Bruh, you picked your highest profile job ever to show out like this? Who are your people?
When high-profile men like Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and Bill Cosby throw their bags to the winds because they lack self-control you have to ask, ‘Why?’ Why in the world would you exchange your career and reputation for momentary pleasure, or more likely, to assert your power in the most basic and arrogant way possible? How in the world could Udoka have thought he wouldn’t get caught, particularly in a league that’s full of sports lifers and with a spotlight that is exponentially hotter than the sun shining down on a Black man successfully coaching one of the league’s most storied teams?
As our mommas used to say – your slip is showing and in front of white folks, at that.
Udoka emerged from the Greg Popovich coaching tree and worked his way up by being a steady-handed assistant coach for the Spurs, Sixers, and Nets before being appointed to Celtics head coach in 2021. Given the pandemic-shortened 2020-2021 season, there weren’t outsize expectations for his first year. But Udoka exceeded those expectations by taking the Celtics on their first championship run since 2010.
Udoka and Long share a 10-year-old-son, Kez Sunday Udoka. The couple kept their relationship low-key on social media but Long shared a few congratulatory posts on her Instagram account during the past season. On May 30, Long posted a pic celebrating the Celtics playoff victory over the Miami Heat the night before that led them into the Finals. She looked happy.
If she was blindsided by the news of Udoka’s (alleged) indiscretion(s) it was no more than the public was. He is heralded as the answer to years of Celtics woes, and with young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown just 24 and 25, along with the rest of the roster, it looked like the team was set for an unstoppable future. Udoka’s actions put that future influx with a highly publicized f—up weeks before the start of the NBA season.
One sports insider says if the speculation is true – a one-year suspension is nonetheless unprecedented. Because, as they point out, Udoka’s alleged affair with an (alleged) white staffer married to a company executive, places her in the power position, not Udoka. Interesting point as we consider the punishments or lack thereof, handed out to Sarver and Favre. So far they have shown they have the protection of the complexion.
Social media, as well as NBA stars Chris Paul and LeBron James, were riled up by the lack of punishment given to Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, who was initially facing a one-year league suspension for basically being a racist, misogynistic a—hole. Instead, Sarver decided to sell the teams and with a 60% majority of the lucrative franchises, that means he’ll profit somewhere in the billions.
Where’s the punishment in that? Favre, the former Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame quarterback is accused of knowingly receiving $5M in state aid in Mississippi earmarked for welfare recipients to build a new volleyball gym at his daughter’s university, also his alma mater. Yet we’re sure his lawyers will keep him out of jail somehow.
Udoka’s personal failings aside, he represents one of the world’s most exclusive fraternities – Black men who’ve been head coaches of major league football or basketball teams. While his shortcomings shouldn’t be representative of all Black men or aspiring coaches, they are when Black men aren’t the ones doing the hiring.
Despite the city of Boston’s largely earned reputation for racism, the Boston Celtics have led the way in hiring Black coaches since the late Bill Russell was a player/coach in the 60s. Including Udoka, there have been five Black Celtics head coaches in the team’s history. In fact, the last five Celtics championships, except for Bill Fitch in 1981, were won by Black coaches who have the best record overall of anyone not named Red Auerbach.
What made Udoka do it? Was it imposter syndrome? Was he drunk on power? Does he have self-destructive tendencies? Or was it just the age-old ‘Because he could, dammit?’ The transgressions of white males don’t ever add up to what Black men are judged by. But that’s no excuse for behavior that is straight disrespectful to Udoka’s woman, children, team, and community.
A year’s suspension could easily turn into a resignation or firing. For Udoka, that means a return to the back of a team bench somewhere in the nether regions of college or desperate NBA teams willing to take a chance. The G League might be a redemption space if Udoka is sufficiently contrite as the NBA is insular and someone might put him on. But it won’t be for a while.
We’re shaking our heads and hoping the next man sees this as a cautionary tale. You’d think we’d be better at not blowing a bag this spectacularly in these inflationary times, but apparently not. As Drake once said, “Overdosed on confidence/Started not to give a f— and not fearing the consequence.”
What comes with money, power, and influence, well, it goes with it as well. Let’s hope a lesson was learned or if not, that the lesson was earned.