While coaching the Cavaliers, John Beilein called his players “thugs.” He said it was a simple case of mispronouncing the word “slugs” while speaking too quickly.
Of the six Cleveland players who publicly addressed the issue the following day, only Tristan Thompson didn’t offer clear support of his coach. The Cavs kept Beilein.
But with Beilein resigning, a fuller picture is emerging.
Shams Charania, Jason Lloyd and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:
a number of the players never really embraced his explanation. In fact, some of them thought it was an insult to their intelligence, one player told The Athletic.
“There was no coming back from that,” he said.
Instead, multiple players began playing songs that included the word “thug” whenever Beilein was within earshot, sources said: Bone Thugz-n-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and Tupac’s “Thugz Mansion” among them. As the team boarded the bus a few days after the incident, one player was intentionally playing Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug” with Beilein a few feet away. Other players blasted songs with the word “thug” loudly during workouts in the facility. Players did this to make light of a very tough situation, according to one team source.
“The worst part to me was not owning that he said it,” one player told The Athletic.
If they didn’t sing the lyrics as:
- “It’s the Sluggish Ruggish Bone”
- “So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin’ / Remember this face, save me a place, in slug’s mansion”
- “Baby, ‘cause I’m a slug”
…they did it wrong.
For what it’s worth, Beilein did own that he said “thugs.” He just claimed he meant to say “slugs.”
Want to question which word he intended to use? Suspicious about what in his mind led “thugs” to come out even if he meant to say “slugs”? That’s totally fair.
But either “slugs” or “thugs” was entirely plausible in that context. Nobody outside Beilein can know what he was thinking.
Cavaliers players just didn’t want to give benefit of the doubt to a coach they already loathed. I wouldn’t be surprised if some within the organization showed faux outrage about thugs-slugs just because they wanted Beilein gone.
The NBA has levels of pettiness Beilein never experienced in college. It can be jarring, and Beilein seemingly never got comfortable at this level. Put another way:
Slug passion got you tremblin’ like Death on the Row