BOSTON — The reigning Eastern Conference champions Boston Celtics suspended coach Ime Udoka after a months-long investigation by an outside law firm that found multiple team policy violations but failed to point to a larger cultural problem of sexual misconduct, owner Wyc Grousbeck said Friday.
“We are committed to running the organization with the core core value of respect and freedom in the workplace from harassment or unwanted attention,” Grousbeck said at a news conference. “This feels very, to me, as unique. That is my personal belief. But I’ll have to verify that.”
Neither Grousbeck nor president of basketball operations Brad Stevens would go into details of the violations or the private report delivered to the team two days ago. But a person with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the details were not made public, told The The New Zealand Times that it involved an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the organization.
Udoka’s multiple violations involved one woman, a Celtics spokesperson said Friday. No one else in the organization faces discipline, Grousbeck said, adding that the team will be vigilant to ensure Udoka’s actions are not a signal that there is a bigger problem.
“Personally, I don’t believe they are a deeper signal,” Grousbeck said. “But we will — I’ll be personal — talk to members of the organization to make sure that’s the case.”
Udoka, a freshman coach three months away from a trip to the NBA finals, was suspended less than a week before training camp was due to start for a team considered one of the favorites to win it all season. Assistant Joe Mazzulla was elevated to interim coach through June 30, 2023; the Celtics say they haven’t decided on Udoka’s future yet.
Stevens got emotional as he discussed the effect the scandal has had on the team — especially the women singled out on social media as potentially involved. The team reached out to employees to provide support.
“We have many talented women in our organization. I thought yesterday was really hard for them,” Stevens said. “No one has control over Twitter speculation, rampant (expletive), 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 unfairly dragged into that.”
Grousbeck said the team learned of the issue earlier this summer and immediately engaged an outside law firm to investigate. After receiving the report, Grousbeck met with Udoka and expressed “acceptance and appreciation for the way this has been handled.”
Grousbeck declined to say whether the suspension was unpaid, but confirmed there was a “significant financial penalty” involved. A one-year suspension is unusual, but not unprecedented for a professional sports coach, but the lack of public details about Udoka’s behavior has left some – including Celtics Hall of Famer Paul Pierce – questioning whether it was too serious.
Grousbeck disagreed, noting that Udoka accepted the punishment and apologized.
“Personally, I think this is justified and appropriate, backed up by substantial research and evidence and facts,” the owner said. “It was clear that something significant had to be done. And it was.”
Mazzulla, 34, led West Virginia to a win in the 2007 NIT tournament and an upset over ninth-ranked Duke in next year’s NCAAs. His only experience as a head coach was a two-year stint from 2017-19 at Division II Fairmount State in West Virginia.
“Joe is in charge. It’s not easy timing for him or the rest of the staff, but he’s an exceptionally sharp and talented person,” said Stevens, adding that he wasn’t seriously considering getting back on the bench himself. “This will be an incredible challenge, but I have a lot of confidence in the team and the coaching staff who will go out on track on Tuesday. It’s not what we expected, but I’m confident.”
TNZT Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.
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