Nia Long is a national treasure and she has held down that role since the 90s. The picture of elegance and grace, she is talented and gorgeous – and not to mention, unproblematic. Never have we ever heard Ms. Long’s name attached to any foolery and that’s saying a lot in the entertainment industry.
Therefore, imagine our shock when her fiancé and head coach of the Boston Celtics, Ime Udoka, made headlines for having an affair and violating team policies in the process. It was announced that after taking the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first year as head coach, Udoka would be suspended for the entire 2022-2023 season. He and Long have been in a relationship for more than a decade and have been engaged since 2015. They also share a son, Kez, who is 10 years old. The couple was in the midst of house hunting after Long relocated to Boston weeks before news of the affair went public. After the suspension was announced, the Love Jones actress released the following statement to the Boston Globe:
“The outpouring love and support from family, friends and the community during this difficult time means so much to me. I ask that my privacy be respected as I process the recent events. Above all, I am a mother and will continue to focus on my children.” Never ones to shy away from saying how they feel, Black Twitter was ablaze with tributes and other displays of support. Who on Earth cheats on Nia Long? Details started to spill in and we still don’t know the WHOLE story, but here’s what we do know.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first broke the news about Udoka’s workplace indiscretions in late September. The Nigerian-American reportedly had “an improper, intimate and consensual relationship with a female staff member,” which violates Boston’s rules. At first, reports stated that the relationship was consensual. Being that the staff member was a subordinate, we see the issues there and the old adage is, “You don’t s**t where you eat.” Yet, a season-long suspension is basically unheard of when it comes to a current NBA head coach. Additionally, many disagree with the public manner in which the Celtics have been dealing with things. One of the most outspoken critics has been Stephen A. Smith. The “First Take” host admonished the Boston franchise, stating that Udoka isn’t the first and won’t be the last to engage in a workplace relationship. “Because I got news for you, America. There’s plenty of white folks in professional sports that’s doing their thing. And I say that not complimentarily. I don’t see the information out about them. Why we talking about this now?” he asked.
Smith doesn’t agree with or condone Udoka’s actions, but he definitely doesn’t feel that the public needed the details. “What I will say is this … and this is a message to the Boston Celtics: I got a problem with you as an organization … If you’re not going to fire him, why the hell do we even know about this story? Nobody’s bringing that up. I’m going to bring it up. What the hell are you telling us for?” the host went on. What particularly irked the loquacious sports personality is that all early reports described the relationship as consensual. “I don’t see nothing being out and disseminated to the masses with these white dudes that’s doing this stuff,” he noted. “I know plenty of white dudes that was screwing around while they’re executives or coaches or anything like that … I know plenty! I’ve never seen this publicized.” Smith is popular for his polarizing takes, but he’s not wrong here.
Situations like Udoka’s happen often; but they’re often handled in-house. The only thing the public really needed to know was that Udoka was being suspended for a violation of the team’s policy. That’s it. Instead, the stage was set for people to run amok with their theories. Social media was filled with photos of various women from the Celtics staff as people accused them of being involved with the head coach. There were women pictured that are married with children, which can be damaging.
Lines were drawn across sports media as well, with ESPN’s Malika Andrews drawing the ire of many who accused her of demeaning and belittling Black men. Though he played no part in the transgressions of his predecessor, interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, a Black man, caught a stray in the incident as Andrews brought up his past. In 2009, as a college player, he allegedly choked a woman at a bar and was charged with domestic violence. The case was settled out of court. It was unnecessary to bring this up over a decade later, and social media users went on a scavenger hunt to air out examples that they felt support the notion that Andrews, who dates a white man, has issues with Black men. That fallout is still going strong.
Whether you side with Andrews or Smith, we can all agree there’s something more to the story. The Celtics did not want to just suspend Udoka — it felt like they wanted to publicly humiliate him. However, with the publicity came speculation and now reports are alleging that the coach also slept with the wife of a minority owner. While this would certainly explain the unprecedented manner in which the whole situation is being handled, it has not been proven. It also speaks to the potential damage done by making internal affairs public. Another allegation is that the staff member who engaged in relations with Udoka actually helped to relocate his fiancée, Long, to Boston. Messy.
Owner Wyc Grousbeck denied Smith’s claims that the organization leaked the affair, but called the punishment “well-warranted” and “backed by substantial research and evidence and fact” during a press conference. He also said that there were multiple violations of team policy following a monthslong investigation initiated by the team itself. An independent law firm concluded that prior to the start of the improper relationship, Udoka used crude language in his dialogue with the subordinate. The verbiage was described as a huge factor in the lengthy suspension.
But why not just fire him? Smith said that was one of his major qualms: “You could’ve fired him and then we could’ve speculated until the cows come home, but he’s gone. But to keep him there, but suspend him for a year, then that year is indefinite, that’s the issue I have.” While Grousbeck disclosed that the Celtics would be cutting Udoka’s salary during the suspension, the organization will not hinder his chances if he were to become a candidate for a coaching position elsewhere.
Regardless of precedent, Grousbeck has been firm in the belief that the suspension is proper, insisting, “This felt right, but there’s no clear guidelines for any of this. It’s conscience and gut feel. … We collectively came to this and got there, but it was not clear what to do, but it was clear something substantial needed to be done, and it was.” It’s unclear whether we will ever get the real story – and I’m not so sure that we should. The Celtics can deny it until they’re blue in the face, but somebody tipped off Wojnarowski. While we can argue that they’re making an example of Udoka, he knew he was wrong and he knew he was in Boston. Make of that last part what you will, but let this serve as a reminder that you don’t cheat on Nia Long.