Everyone working for the NBA or one of its franchises must act professionally at all times. That said, the head coach is supposed to be the person in charge of the team. A head coach is like the general manager of a store. That person may not own the place, but the person must be its worthy captain.
Ime Udoka was not that for the Houston Rockets when during a Saturday night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers after an altercation with LeBron James.
Udoka spoke to James in a way that would start a fight in a pickup game. His words are now public because a lip reader got hold of some audio from the game. James complained about a call – shocking, I know – and Udoka yelled “stop playing like bitches.”
Again, calling out something like that at LA Fitness will get someone suppressed. In an NBA game, James knows better than to really go after an opposing coach. Instead, he casually walked up to Udoka and told him to stop talking like that. The head coach of the Rockets then chose to operate like an instigator at a pickup game and asked James what he was going to do about it.
Udoka also allegedly called James, who played the lip reader, a “soft ass boy”. A now look closer at Udoka’s face, it’s not really discernible what he said after “sag” so I’ll take @legendz_NBA’s word for it. Whatever Udoka said, the referee heard it and immediately issued a technical foul to both Udoka and James. It was Udoka’s second of the match and he was ejected.
After the match, Udoka was unapologetic about the confrontation during his post-match press conference. He was asked to clarify who his comments were directed at and he said: “the player.” Also, when judging his team’s performance he said, “To get kind of punked by a team that’s not known for physicality or punking people is not a good sign.”
His opinion on the Lakers is clear. Because he is so clear, it is reasonable to assume that he feels this way about their star players, of which James is one. Udoka can have whatever opinion he wants about other people, but using derogatory language towards an opposing player as the head coach of a basketball team is highly unbecoming behavior.
But hey, this is the guy who lost his job after one year of stellar work as the head coach of one of the premier franchises in all of professional sports—the Boston Celtics. They appointed an independent investigator and determined that Udoka was a inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and was vulgar with her. They suspended him for all of last season and now he’s coaching a team of recent lottery picks and counting on Dillon Brooks for veteran leadership.
For Udoka to talk to the Lakers and James like he did during an NBA basketball game, why should I believe he learned his lesson? In front of a live studio audience, Udoka performed in an unprofessional manner. He is the face of his franchise and talked like a schoolyard bully.
I don’t expect the head coach of a basketball team, the general manager of a store, or a school principal to be a better person than the rest of us. However, I believe that as the public face of an organization, that person is paid to be the adult in the room at all times. Being mature is one of the most important parts of the job.
What Udoka did was not just youths, it was another point against him as a leader. He is a very good basketball coach. The Rockets are 8-9 and have already surpassed a third of their win total from last season. He has the ability and the respect of the locker room part of his job.
However, acting in a professional manner appears to be a weakness. A weakness that has already cost him a lot of work. A consequence that seems not to have taught him the right lesson.