The NBA kicks off its new season on Tuesday with a marquee matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics before the reigning champions Golden State Warriors square off against their state rivals the Los Angeles Lakers.
While exciting, the NBA isn’t necessarily starting things off with a clean slate this season. Controversy still shrouds the professional basketball league following the scandal surrounding Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who was suspended last month after his affair with a fellow team employee made headlines. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns franchise is still owned by Robert Sarver, who was suspended for a full season over a racism and misogyny scandal that ultimately forced him to announce he’d sell the team. But that hasn’t happened yet.
Here’s what we know as both scandals loom large over this NBA season.
Why wasn’t Ime Udoka fired?
Udoka will be sidelined for an entire year as assistant coach Joe Mazzulla steps in to lead the Celtics, but the question still remains: Why wasn’t Udoka fired from his current position with the team?
Stephen A. Smith offered a wild theory during Tuesday’s episode of “First Take” on ESPN.
“I believe part of the reason he was suspended, not fired, is because the Boston Celtics did not want him to end up in Brooklyn,” Smith speculated. “I believe that Ime Udoka, had he gotten fired, with all the stuff that happened — remember, the operative words were ‘consensual relationship, violation of organization policy!’ So because it’s that, it’s about your behavior, which we don’t endorse, as opposed to a crime.”
Smith went on to suggest that Udoke could have been offered a light punishment because his affair wasn’t labeled as a “crime” by NBA officials.
“I believe that if Ime Udoka had been fired by the Boston Celtics, the Brooklyn Nets would’ve fired Steve Nash and brought that brother back and he would be the coach for the Brooklyn Nets right now. That’s how emphatic I am about this,” the sportscaster added.
Now, Smith’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt, because previous reports alleged that Udoka may have engaged in some inappropriate misconduct during his affair. The Athletic reported that Udoka made “unwanted comments” to the woman involved, and ESPN later alleged that Udoka used “crude language” with the female employee.
The allegations certainly don’t help as the Celtics gear up to step into a fresh season. Unfortunately, the Phoenix Suns also appear to be kicking off the NBA season with some bad juju, due to the allegations surfacing about their former manager Robert Sarver.
Robert Sarver still owns the Phoenix Suns, but not for long
Sarver’s history of misogyny and racist misconduct also reared its ugly head last month when the NBA announced the findings of its nearly yearlong investigation into the 60-year-old businessman. Officials discovered that Sarver used the N-word on multiple different occasions throughout his tenure with the organization. He was later slammed with a year-long suspension and a $10 million fine. But oddly, as of now, he still owns the Phoenix Suns. That soon could change given his most recent announcement.
Last Wednesday, the disgraced coach announced that he was beginning the process to sell the Suns and his stake in the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness,” Sarver said in a statement Wednesday, according to ESPN. “I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he “fully” supported Sarver’s decision to sell the teams.”This is the right next step for the organization and community,” Silver added.
Some of Sarver’s close NBA counterparts are still in shock about the allegations including general manager James Jones who said, “You don’t want that around the organization. You don’t want that to be the issue.”
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