The Boston Celtics. After coming within a whisker of winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season, they had a coach who won the respect of players and fans alike, a young superstar just coming into his own and a stellar supporting cast. Now they are a team in turmoil.
Bad news comes in threes. That is a superstitious belief with no basis in fact. It's just an old wives tale not worthy of our attention. Except that it often seems to work out that way.
Take, for example, the states of three of our professional sports teams:
Bad News #1 -- The Boston Red Sox. Despite a few hiccups along the way, they were baseball's most successful franchise for the first two decades of the 21st century, winning four World Series championships. Now, however, they find themselves as bottom-dwellers in the American League East and, unless a dramatic turn-around takes place, are expected to remain there next season.
Bad News #2 -- The New England Patriots. After two decades at or near the top of the National Football League, which includes six Super Bowl trophies, they are relegated to middle-of-the-pack at best and are no longer rated as even a long-shot contender for a championship.
Bad News #3 -- The Boston Celtics. After coming within a whisker of winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy last season, they had a coach who won the respect of players and fans alike, a young superstar just coming into his own and a stellar supporting cast. Now they are a team in turmoil. Their coach, Ime Udoka, has been suspended for the entire season, and they are beset by injuries before training camp has even begun.
How's that for a trifecta of troubles?
About all it would take for the circle of disastrous stories around Boston sports teams to be complete would be for the Bruins to announce that the ice at TD Garden had melted and that all players would have to learn to roller skate before the hockey season opens next month.
By far the most puzzling, and the most mysterious, story has been the unprecedented season-long suspension of Udoka for what the organization has described as "the consensual relationship" between the coach (soon to be ex-coach?) and a female member of the team's staff, which is in violation of team policy. Udoka admits to the affair with the unnamed staffer and has apologized for it. He is not married but has had a long-term relationship with the actress Nia Long and the two are parents to an 11-year-old son. The question is, why a punishment of that severity when the issue could have been dealt with in-house and behind the scenes?
This is career-altering and possibly even career-ending for someone who, until this happened, appeared to be the answer to the Celtics' prayers, the man who would lead them back to the glorious days of yesteryear. Is there another aspect to the story we are not being told? The woman in question has not been named, but by not doing so the Celtics have made every female employee of the organization a suspect.
It is a fact that Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended for a year as a result of his involvement in the infamous sign-stealing scandal of a few years ago when he was the bench coach for the Houston Astros, but that suspension was imposed by Major League Baseball and it was just one of several that were handed down. He was never charged with or suspected of any wrongdoing while manager of the Red Sox. In the Udoka case, the sentencing party was the Celtics themselves, the very team for which Ime Udoka works (worked?). It is not a league-wide issue.
There are a good many questions still to be answered about the issue as of this writing, and no doubt a lot of them will be answered. There are just too many people working on the story for it not to come out eventually. To coin a phrase, "Inquiring minds want to know." Who did what, and under what circumstances? And was it deserving of what, for all intents and purposes, seems to be the death penalty, a least career-wise? Udoka himself issued a statement accepting the punishment and apologizing profusely for his actions, whatever those actions were. One could assume that they must have been pretty bad.
The new interim head coach of the Celtics is somebody named Joe Mazzulla. If you had never heard of Joe before this mess, don't feel bad. Neither had anyone else. Until late last year, he was in the back bench of assistant coaches (that's right, there are now several rows of assistant coaches on the Celtics). He joins the ranks once occupied by the likes of Red Auerbach, who built the greatest dynasty in sports history; Bill Russell, the most successful basketball player of all-time; Tom Heinsohn, one of only a few who have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach; and hall of famers KC Jones and Dave Cowens, to name but a few. Mazzulla's total experience as a head coach consists of two seasons at the helm of Division 2 Fairmont State in West Virginia.
God help us.
The new Celtics interim head coach, 34, also had a brush with notoriety when, in 2009, he allegedly grabbed a woman by the neck in a Morgantown, West Virginia, bar, which got him kicked off the basketball team at West Virginia University. He was allowed back on the team the following season, though. He was also arrested for underage drinking and aggravated assault, charges to which he pled guilty and paid a fine.
It's enough to make the grim news that starting center Robert Williams will be out eight to 12 weeks after surgery on his balky left knee and that new acquisition Danilo Gallinari is lost for the season after tearing his ACL is almost beside the point, isn't it?
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
Recent articles in the Culture & Events section
A terrible unity: Tyre Nichols cries out and the nation hearsElizabeth Scalia
Christ's radical command to love the otherMichael Reardon
'Inclusion' and CatholicismGeorge Weigel
Why is ad orientem worship so controversial?Dr. R. Jared Staudt
Not of the world, but the world mattersDavid Mills