It became apparent early on in the Boston Celtics’ head coaching search that hiring a person of color was important to both the organization and the players. Earlier this month, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that “there is a sense around the league that hiring a head coaching candidate who is Black will be a top priority for this position.” All-Star wing Jaylen Brown even went out of his way, taking to Twitter to highlight the analytics behind the remaining playoff teams in the NBA led by Black head coaches — four out of seven.
The Celtics have since followed through on their “top priority,” pulling the trigger on Ime Udoka as the 18th head coach in franchise history — a monumental move, indeed. Just maybe not as monumental as ESPN’s Jay Williams may have originally thought.
In a since-deleted (and refuted) tweet captured by KYW’s Jay Scott Smith, the former No. 2 overall pick completely misfired, falsely claiming that Udoka was the first head coach of color in Celtics history.
Udoka is not the first head coach of color in the Celtics’ illustrious history, but rather the sixth. Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Tom Sanders, M.L. Carr and Doc Rivers all came prior to Udoka. In fact, as Yahoo Sports pointed out, the Celtics were actually the first team in league history to hire a Black head coach (Russell in 1966).
While Williams’ take came in good faith, that didn’t stop the internet from piling on the former Duke Blue Devil. Even Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James got in on the fun, insinuating that such an invalid take had to be photoshopped.
Hours after Twitter had their fun with him, Williams claimed that his account had been hacked and that was the reasoning behind his incorrect tweet regarding the Celtics’ hire. While we’ll take his word for it, seems like an extremely unusual and light-hearted action on the part of the hacker.
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Celtics Players Are Fans of Udoka
Udoka’s resume speaks for itself. With that said, it’s become apparent that his familiarity with the Celtics’ core three of Brown, Jayson Tatum and — yes — Marcus Smart played a pivotal role in bringing the Nets assistant to Beantown.
“Ime Udoka’s experience coaching Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart a couple years ago in Team USA was significant in his hiring,” tweeted Stadium’s Jeff Goodman. “‘Those guys all liked him and respected him,’ one source told me. ‘He’s an easy guy to connect with.'”
Rudy Gay Praises Udoka
Udoka will now replace team president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, who stepped down as coach earlier this month after eight years of manning the sidelines.
The 43-year-old Udoka spent this past season as an assistant on Steve Nash’s Nets staff, helping guide Brooklyn to a second-seed finish in the East during the regular season. Prior to his stint in Brooklyn, he served on Brett Brown’s staff with the Philadelphia 76ers from 2019-2020. Yet, it was his near-decade run as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs where he began to make waves in the coaching ranks.
Rudy Gay, one of his former players with the Spurs, spoke glowingly of Udoka to Goodman. Here’s what the long-time NBA veteran had to say about the new man in charge in Boston:
He’s a hard worker. He coached under a guy named Gregg Popovich, but everyone on the team and the staff respected Ime. He’s got the perfect balance. He’ll laugh and joke, but knows how to be serious. A lot of assistants tell you what you want to hear. Ime will give it straight to you. I don’t think he’ll back down from anyone in any kind of situation.
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