Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s longtime fiancé Nia Long was reportedly blindsided by his reported affair with a female member of the team’s staff, resulting in his year-long suspension, even though the club had confronted him with its investigation months ago.
Long, the 51-year-old former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star, had moved to the Boston area two weeks ago with the couple’s 10-year-old son and had recently been house hunting with Udoka, according to TMZ.
She reportedly was unaware of the allegations until the last few days, even though the Celtics had been investigating the matter with Udoka’s knowledge for months, TMZ reports.
Now, through her spokeswoman, Long is asking for privacy.
‘The outpouring of love and support from family, friends and the community during this difficult time means so much to me,’ Long told TMZ through her spokeswoman. ‘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.’
Udoka, the Celtics’ second-year head coach with a once-sterling reputation, was suspended for all of the upcoming season on Thursday over ‘multiple’ unspecified violations of team rules. He also suffered a “significant financial penalty.’
Reports say the 45-year-old had an improper, but consensual relationship with a female member of the team’s staff, yet that hardly explains why Udoka is being sidelined for 2022-23, and potentially longer. In the team statement naming assistant Joe Mazzulla as interim coach, Boston said Udoka’s future would be determined ‘at a later date.’
Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s longtime fiancé Nia Long was reportedly blindsided by his reported affair with a female member of the team’s staff, resulting in his year-long suspension, even though the club had confronted him with its investigation months ago
Udoka guided the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season as the team’s head coach
The situation is puzzling, not only because Boston is sidelining a coach that guided the team to the NBA Finals in his first season, but also because the Celtics have turned an ostensibly private and reportedly consensual relationship into a public matter – something that ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has seized upon Friday.
‘My issue is you have his personal business publicized all over the airways,’ Smith said, while questioning why a suspension was necessary.
Celtics legend Paul Pierce, too, argued on Twitter that Udoka’s punishment ‘should just be a fine not a suspension.’
The Athletic raised questions about the relationship Thursday night, reporting that Udoka was accused by the woman of making ‘unwanted comments’ to her, prompting the Celtics to launch internal interviews that ultimately led to his suspension.
Further complicating matters is Udoka’s murky relationship with Long.
One report, from Bally Sports, claims the couple was ‘separated prior to the current issue,’ but the two appeared to be on good terms as recently as May, when the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air tweeted video of herself dancing in celebration as his Celtics qualified for the Finals.
Then there was Udoka’s own statement Thursday, which made a cryptic reference to disappointing his loved ones: ‘I want to apologize to our players, fans, the entire Celtics organization, and my family for letting them down.’
Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce said the Udoka should just be fined and not suspended
Boston assistant Joe Mazzulla will serve as interim coach throughout the upcoming season
The Celtics were set to open training camp on Tuesday as a logical favorite to reach the Finals once again, and potentially compete for an NBA-record 18th championship.
Instead, Boston is now faced with questions of leadership, while Udoka is fighting to save his once-promising career.
Ime Udoka #7 of the Charleston Lowgators drives to the basket during the game against the Roanoke Dazzle at the North Charleston Coliseum on November 28, 2003
Udoka’s career, until now, had been a tale of perseverance.
He wasn’t blessed with great physical gifts, but his love for the game and 6-foot-6 frame were a strong foundation as he grew up in Portland, where he ultimately befriended future NBA star and his assistant with the Celtics, Damon Stoudemire.
‘Growing up, one of the things I used to motivate me to get to the NBA was whatever my peers were doing, I was going to do the opposite,’ Udoka told The Athletic in April. ‘Everybody is out partying? Kicking it? Hanging out? I’m going to open gym. I didn’t go to prom. I didn’t go to graduation. I was at the gym.’
He played at three colleges before graduating from Portland State University and ultimately starting his professional career in the NBDL with the Charleston Lowgators.
Brief stints with the Los Angeles Lakers, French teams, and G-League teams would follow, before Udoka began seeing more action with the New York Knicks, Portland Trail Blazers and, eventually, the San Antonio Spurs.
(L-R) Brian Cook, Jamal Sampson, Kobe Bryant, Ime Udoka, Luke Walton and Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers during pre-game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on January 19, 2004
It was in San Antonio, under coach Gregg Popovich, that Udoka developed into a reliable perimeter defender.
‘My thing was to always think the game,’ Udoka said. ‘And if you can’t do that, you out-will your more skilled opponent by being physically and mentally tougher.’
After playing briefly for Sacramento and later returning to San Antonio, Udoka received one of the most coveted jobs in coaching as an assistant to Popovich.
The two would win an NBA Title together in 2014, and Udoka would soon come to embody the Popovich ethos of coaching.
‘He assimilated with the Pop philosophy,’ an NBA executive told the New York Post in 2020. ‘Udoka is a person very driven, meticulous, hard on himself. He’s a perfectionist.’
Popovich gushed about his protégé in 2015, telling ESPN: ‘He exudes a confidence and a comfort in his own skin where people just gravitate to him.’
Coach Pop also gave Udoka a back-handed compliment by joking that he’s a teetotaller.
‘The only thing I don’t like about him is that he doesn’t drink, so I can’t enjoy a glass of wine with him,’ said Popovich. ‘He’s really boring at dinner.’
Udoka quickly became one of the hottest assistant coaching prospects in the NBA, getting prestigious gigs on the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets’ benches, before getting hired by former Celtics head coach-turned-president Brad Stevens in Boston before the 2021-22 season.
At the time, former Udoka colleague Kirk Goldsberry tweeted that Boston made a ‘great hire.’
Patty Mills #8 of the San Antonio Spurs, assistant coaches Becky Hammon, Ime Udoka, and head coach Gregg Popovich watch action against the Indiana Pacers from the bench during an NBA game on October 24, 2018
Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks to his protégé, Ime Udoka
Initial returns, however, weren’t good.
Despite the presence of All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston struggled for much of the first half of Udoka’s first season and around .500 until January, when players began taking his lessons to heart to finish the regular season, 51-31.
‘He definitely set a tone,’ Celtics guard Payton Pritchard told The Athletic. ‘That’s Ime to a T. That’s what we needed.’
The Celtics then steamrolled through the first round of the playoffs, sweeping the hated Nets in four games before hard-fought seven-game series victories over the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks and top-seeded Miami Heat.
The six-game NBA Finals loss to the Warriors notwithstanding, Udoka’s stock couldn’t have been higher entering the off-season. A young coach coming off a Finals appearance in his first season was likely looking at a significant raise in a renegotiated contract, Smith said Friday.
‘That means he was in the position to get his salary tripled,’ Smith said.
The Celtics Dennis Schroder (center) and teammate Jayson Tatum (right) argued with a little over 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter in a December game. Boston struggled during that portion of the season, but hit its stride under Udoka over the following months
Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics and Head Coach Ime Udoka celebrate with the Bob Cousy Eastern Conference Championship Trophy after Game 7 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals on May 29
But for all of the positivity created by Udoka’s first year as Celtics head coach, the Celtics have faced one obstacle after another in the off-season.
Free-agent acquisition Danilo Gallinari tore the ACL in his left knee over the summer, and earlier this week it was revealed that starting center Robert Williams would need arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee. Williams is expected to miss between four and six weeks, but Gallinari could be out for significantly longer.
More pressing is the situation facing Mazzulla, a relatively unknown quantity heading into the season.
The former head coach at Division II Fairmont State, Mazzulla is a local guy, who hails from Rhode Island. He played collegiately under Bob Huggins at West Virginia, where he was once suspended for domestic battery in 2009.
Now 34, Mazzulla is being counted upon to be the answer in Boston, even though he’s only slated to have the job for the next season.
‘Joe is going to be in It is not easy timing for him or the rest of the staff,’ Celtics president Brad Stevens said at Friday’s press conference. ‘But he’s an exceptionally sharp and talented person and I believe strongly in him and his ability to lead people, his ability to galvanize a room and get behind him and his ability to organize and understand all that comes with running a team during a season. He has really good happen on husband staff.’
Boston’s cupboard isn’t bare, though.
The Celtics return core players like Tatum, Brown, Robert ‘Time Lord’ Williams, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Grant Williams, and Derrick White. Furthermore, Stevens traded for former Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, an experienced, well-rounded point guard who adds significantly to the team’s backcourt depth.
The key for Mazzulla will be getting the same defensive effort from the Celtics players that Udoka did last season, when Boston held opponents to a league-low 43.4-percent accuracy from the field.
The Boston Celtics celebrate after the win against the Miami Heat in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final at FTX Arena on May 29