ESPN’s latest story on Ime Udoka raises even more questions about their original reporting

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

Disgraced Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s suspendible relationship with a female staffer has gone from “intimate” to “improper,” according to ESPN’s reporting. The word “consensual” doesn’t appear in Adrian Wojnarowski’s latest filing, but the phrases “crude language” and “especially concerning” are featured in the first two paragraphs.

We still don’t know many facts about the story behind Udoka’s shocking one-season suspension, but one thing is for certain: Woj was covering for Udoka when he first broke the news.

The media whiffed on the Ime Udoka story

Podcast Episode
Sports Media Mayhem
How the sports media whiffed on the Ime Udoka story
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

Following Wojnarowski’s initial vague and bizarre report — complete with a goofy “breaking news” graphic featuring Woj’s mug — ESPN’s ubiquitous NBA Insider tweeted the romantic relationship in question was “consensual.” In a follow-up piece filed Sept. 21, Woj described the relationship as “intimate.”

A few hours later, Woj’s protégé-turned-rival Insider Shams Charania reported that Udoka was suspended for making “unwanted comments” towards the woman, but that update never made it into Woj’s story.

The next day on ESPN, Stephen A. Smith kept insisting the relationship was consensual, even though that was clearly unestablished.

Now, Wojnarowski’s reporting infers that Udoka was predatory. “The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension,” he writes.

Woj’s first article about Udoka also doesn’t mention any power imbalance. In it, Woj refers to the woman as a “female member of the franchise’s staff.”

In his new story, Wojnarowski describes the woman as a “female subordinate.” He also calls Udoka a “workplace senior,” and adds that his evaluated role in the organization was a factor in his unprecedented suspension.

While it’s common for reporters to add more detail about stories over time, Woj is presenting two different accounts. The first one frames Udoka, who’s engaged to Nia Long and fathers two children with the actress, as unfaithful and maybe a little bit promiscuous.

The second one implies that Udoka was making lewd and unwanted advances towards a female underling.

Those are two very different situations.

It’s apparent there’s still more to the story. The phrase “crude language” is opaque, just like “unwanted advances.”

Former NBA player Matt Barnes said the truth is “100 times worse” than anybody could imagine. That suggests Udoka did more than make unwelcome sexual comments towards a female subordinate — as reprehensible as that is.

The continued mystery of the situation indicates there are unsettled legal disputes being worked out. Legal analyst Michael McCann surmises that Udoka is “accused of doing things that warrant a firing or possibly a lawsuit.”

Again, we’ve come a long way from “consensual.”

When the story broke, former ESPN Warriors reporter Ethan Strauss pointed out that Wojnarowski and Udoka are both CAA clients, and Woj has a long history of protecting other people affiliated with the agency.

The cleanup may be happening now; but the truth is, people remember the first version of events. They don’t remember the correction.

It looks like Udoka got in front of this one, with a big assist from Woj.

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA Today Sports