The Celtics promoted Brad Stevens (who’s white) from head coach to team president then hired Ime Udoka (who’s Black) as head coach.
Celtics wing Jaylen Brown – outspoken on racial issues, particularly in Boston – made himself heard in the coaching search.
Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:
Brown told The Undefeated that he told the Celtics ownership and front office last offseason that it was important to hire a Black head coach after Brad Stevens was promoted to president of basketball operations.
“They were on board with it. They talked about it. It wasn’t like it was just about being African American. [Udoka is] more than qualified,” said Brown.
“Whether it was because they were just trying to shut us up, or because they actually believed it was the right thing to do, it don’t matter to me. That representation is important,” Brown, a 24-year-old African American, told The Undefeated. “And that’s giving people access and resources that they need and deserve to have, especially former players. They deserve to have a seat at the table too, especially in coaching positions, as well as in-office positions, ownership positions. Those are important as well, especially if they’re qualified.
“That’s my argument. People may disagree, like, ‘They’re not qualified. They’re just getting the job because they’re African American.’ You’ve seen people say that in the media. And things like that. That’s some [expletive]. There’s plenty of qualified African Americans and Black people that can do their job. And they deserve to have a seat at the table.”
First of all, the headline-grabbing part of what Brown said was paraphrased. It’s possible his actual message to the Celtics was misconstrued when relayed from him to Spears to the public. There are similar-sounding, though significantly different, viewpoints that could be offered in the ongoing discussion about NBA coaching demographics.
Making race a critical component of someone’s job candidacy is sure to generate controversy.
That’s especially true when it happens through overt statements of racial preference. It should also be true when it happens more subtly through not confronting biases, considering only a narrow pool of candidates, and favoring candidates with certain connections – all factors that have led to white men disproportionately getting hired as coaches.
The Celtics should have done their best to hire the best person for the job. Period.
To the degree race should have been considered, it should have been through the lens of finding the best person for the job. Race can affect the opportunities people have to grow and advance within the profession.
Someone with fewer coaching accomplishments might have a stronger coaching aptitude than someone with more coaching accomplishments. The person with more coaching accomplishments might just appear further ahead because of the opportunities each had.
Hires should not be about who has done the most previously, though that can inform a proper decision. Hires should be forward-looking, about who will do the best in the job. That can best be achieved through a search that purposefully considers a diverse range of candidates and evaluates them on the merits. Again, merit should not be as simple as evaluating what someone has already done, but the more-difficult determination of what he or she will do.
Udoka looks like a worthy hire. A former NBA player, he worked his way up Gregg Popovich’s staff in seven seasons as a Spurs assistant. Udoka then spread his wings in one season each with the 76ers and Nets. He focused last season on Brooklyn’s defense, which exceeded expectations in the playoffs. A head-coaching job was the logical next step in his advancement.
It’s unclear how seriously the Celtics took Brown’s advisement. A search that included candidates of all races could have easily landed on Udoka.
But, like the Timberwolves with Chris Finch, there are now more questions about the process that led to this result.