This week, the sports world was rocked by the news that Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka had violated the organization’s code of conduct by engaging in a “consensual relationship” with a female employee.
While the details of the story remain unknown to the public, the Celtics have already suspended Udoka for the entire upcoming season. It is unclear whether he will return next year; several reports suggested that he’d considered resigning altogether.
To say the fallout is enormous would be an understatement; it’s a horrible blow to the organization and fan base. Udoka had just led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season as a head coach. During the NBA offseason over the summer, the Celtics had added exciting talents, including Malcolm Brogdon, to the roster, hoping to build upon the stacked team that had already almost gone the distance. Instead, they will have to rebound from the immense blow of losing their head coach less than a month before they open the season.
Following Friday’s emergency press conference, Boston Globe Celtics reporter Gary Washburn wrote:
"“The Celtics believed they had their coach for the next decade, but suddenly they don’t. Will Udoka ever coach the Celtics again? It’s impossible to answer that.”"
Ime Udoka’s suspension stirs up unpleasant memories for Red Sox fans
For Boston Red Sox fans, it’s a painfully familiar sentiment.
During the MLB offseason in January 2020, news broke that manager Alex Cora had allegedly been involved in cheating scandals with both the Houston Astros and Sox in their respective championships seasons in 2017 and 2018. Almost immediately after, the Sox and Cora ‘mutually agreed to part ways.’ He received a season-long suspension from MLB not long after.
In the aftermath, here are two excerpts from Boston Globe sports coverage that sounds eerily similar:
"“Moving forward with Cora would have been difficult, but filling the void left by Cora might prove even tougher. Cora impacted too many players, he understood the organization from top to bottom… The Sox declined to comment on whether Cora should get another chance at managing in the majors.” – Julian McWilliams, January 15, 2020"
"“Though he was manager for just two years, Cora’s place in the organization was enormous. The void he leaves — and the uncertain organizational future that trails his exit — is likewise colossal.”– Alex Speier, January 15, 2020"
Much is different about the latest local scandal than the one before. Udoka violated the Celtics’ code of conduct, while Cora broke a league rule. As such, Cora’s scandal and subsequent punishment were handed down by the league, not the team. The Celtics hired a firm to investigate Udoka and then suspended him; the Sox and Cora parted ways before MLB handed down retribution.
But there are several parallels, too. Udoka’s suspension comes not long after leading his team to the final round of the playoffs in his rookie season; Cora was only a year and some months removed from doing the same in his first season with the Sox. In both cases, promising postseason rosters with the potential to return to the deepest part of the playoffs were threatened early on by numerous injuries. For the Sox, it was Chris Sale. For the Celtics, it’s Robert Williams and Danilo Gallinari.
And in a brutal twist of irony, Celtics president of baseball operations, Brad Stevens, then the head coach, had been at Fenway that fateful day. He’d spoken to players for the Red Sox Rookie Development Program right before MLB released their report on the Astros scandal, dragging Cora into the maelstrom.
Above all, the feelings are the same. The city is the same. Many of the fans are the same. The frustration that comes from being devoted to something or someone who doesn’t always live up to their potential and the standard that accompanies their position is the same.
As often happens after a sports scandal, people who don’t let sports consume their lives will ask their sports fan friends why they ride the rollercoaster of emotions that is this lifestyle. But especially in this city, nicknamed Title Town, people will attempt to explain that the lowest valleys only make the highest peaks that much more stunning and meaningful.
Unfortunately, the Celtics were riding high before this, and were poised to remain near or at the top of the league. Now, it feels like they’ve plummeted into an abyss-like low.
Will Ime Udoka return to the Celtics after his suspension?
Cora returned to the Sox in the fall of 2020 after serving his one-year suspension. MLB only found him to be culpable for playing a role in the Astros scandal and cleared him of any wrongdoing in their investigation of the Sox.
But there was no guarantee that the Sox would re-hire him. Dave Dombrowski had been the one to hire him in the first place, and he’d been unceremoniously fired in September 2019. Chaim Bloom was the one who brought Cora back to Boston.
In the Celtics’ statement announcement of Udoka’s suspension on Thursday night, they said that his future with the organization would be decided at a later date.