Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey wasted little time at today’s introductory press conference addressing the controversy looming over Portland hiring Chauncey Billups as coach: In 1997, a woman accused Billups – then a Celtics rookie – of rape. He denied it and was never charged, though he settled a civil suit years later.
“With Chauncey’s support, his encouragement, we not only conducted our traditional background check after offering him the position, we also commissioned an independent investigation into the incident in question in 1997,” Olshey said. “The findings of that incident corroborated Chauncey’s recollection of the events, that nothing non-consensual happened. We stand by Chauncey.”
Who conducted the investigation? Whom did they talk to? What information was gathered to reach that conclusion?
“You’re just going to have to take our word that we hired an experienced firm that ran an investigation that gave us the results we’ve already discussed,” said Olshey, who called the answers to those questions “proprietary.”
This was such an unacceptable defense of Billups. It’s unfair to assume he’s guilty, but if allegations are to be refuted, it should be through evidence – not just the “you have my word” Olshey offered.
Hopefully, the Trail Blazers had the incident properly investigated and maybe found sufficient information from decades ago to exonerate Billups. But they can’t just be trusted to have done so. They weren’t a neutral party. They wanted Billups.
Billups could have answered many questions: What happened that night? Does he have a sense why the woman accused him? What evidence can he offer in his defense? Why did he settle the civil suit?
Instead, Portland cut off even the most basic request for elaboration.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how every decision that we make could have a profound impact on a person’s life,” Billups said. “I learned at a very young age as a player – not only a player, but a young man, a young adult – that every decision has consequences. And that’s led to some really, really healthy but tough conversations that I’ve had to have with my wife – who was my girlfriend at the time in 1997 – and my daughters about what actually happened and about what they may have to read about me in the news and in the media. But this experience has shaped my life in so many ways – my decision-making obviously, who I allow to be in my life, the friendships and the relationships that I have and how I got about them. It’s impacted every decision that I make. It really has, and it’s shaped me in some unbelievable ways.”
But when Billups was asked how it helped shape him, Trail Blazers Senior Vice President of Communications, Community and Diversity Ashley Clinkscale interjected.
“We appreciate your question,” Clinkscale said. “We’ve addressed this. It’s been asked and answered. So, happy to move onto the next question here.”
This is not the way to move on. The way to move on is to transparently answer questions with satisfactory answers.
Before the press conference devolved, Billups tried to project optimism.
“This is my dream job, and we knew we would have to address this,” Billups said. “But this is my dream job. This is one of the best days of my entire life.”
Does that concern Billups?
“When I tell you this is a dream job for me,” Billups said, “I mean what I say.
“At the end of the day, I want to be the head coach at a storied franchise,” Billups said. “So, it didn’t deter me at all from going after my dream. It didn’t then, and it doesn’t now. So, I’m excited for the opportunity, regardless.”