As if the NBA hasn’t been rocked enough by the racism and sexism scandal surrounding the Phoenix Suns, a bombshell report overnight from a pair of trusted NBA insiders could have a similarly disruptive effect on one of the pro basketball league’s signature franchises — and, as a consequence, actress Nia Long — just weeks before the upcoming season begins.
It started when ESPN’s Ardian “Woj’ Wojnarowski reported via Twitter that Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka “is facing possible disciplinary action – including a significant suspension – for an unspecified violation of organizational guidelines.”
The “Woj bomb” — as such breaking news reports from Wojnarowski are commonly called — sparked a wave of speculation in part because of the vagueness of the tweet.
But about an hour and a half later, Shams Charania — another NBA reporter with unrivaled access to teams, players and coaches — provided clarity.
Citing “sources,” the senior NBA reporter for the Athletic tweeted early Thursday morning that Udoka, 45, “had an improper intimate and consensual relationship with a female member of the team staff.” Charania added that doing so was “a violation of franchise’s code of conduct.”
It’s a big deal that Udoka is facing a possible suspension entering his second year on the job following an impressive run to the NBA Finals just three months ago. It was unclear what kind of punishment Udoka faces, but Wojnarowski reported that “internal discussions have included scenarios that would keep Udoka out for the entirety of the 2022-2023 season.”
But it is also a big deal that — if Charania’s report is accurate — it suggests Udoka’s “intimate” relationship with an unspecified Celtics employee came while he was also in a longtime relationship with actress Nia Long. The two have been together for more than a decade and she was even pictured smiling courtside in Boston with the couple’s son at an NBA Finals in June.
Long, 51, tweeted in late May a video showing her appearing to cheer for Udoka’s Celtics after the team secured a berth in the Finals to square off against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in a series Boston would eventually lose in six games.
That same day, Long posted an apparent tribute to Udoka on her Instagram.
There is certainly a possibility that Udoka and Long had broken up by the time the reported relationship with the Celtics employee took place, as full details were not immediately available. Udoka and Long’s relationship began in 2010, they have one son together and in 2015 they became engaged, PEOPLE reported at the time.
But that didn’t stop rampant speculation on social media as people openly wondered why and how someone could ever cheat on Long, who remains a perennial beauty symbol, particularly within the Black community.
Long certainly did the rumor mill no favors with an Instagram post on Wednesday night with a cryptic message.
The news about Udoka came hours after it was reported that the suspected white supremacist owner of the Phoenix Suns planned to sell the team after the NBA fined and suspended him for fostering a culture of racism, sexism and sexual harassment in the franchise’s front office.
During his 18-year-tenure with the team, Sarver reportedly used the N-word at least five times, NBA officials found after a year-long investigation that uncovered multiple “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees.” The probe also found that Sarver made several “sex-related comments” to female staffers, some of which were “inappropriate” remarks about their appearances.
The news about Udoka is bound to have a far smaller cultural impact than Sarver’s scandal, but it was bad timing for the NBA, which came under fire following the league’s commissioner fining the uber-wealthy Sarver $10 million and suspending him for just one year, making his return inevitable.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wads among those who put “private pressure” on Sarver to sell the team, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported early Wednesday afternoon. Hours later, the NBA community turned its attention to the Udoka report.
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