Everyone who works for the NBA or one of its franchises should always behave in a professional manner. That being said, the head coach is supposed to be the person in charge of the team. A head coach is like the general manager of a store. That person may not own the place, but the person does need to be its dignified captain.
Udoka spoke to James in a way that would start a fight in a pickup game. His words are now public because a lip reader got a hold of some audio from the game. James complained about a call — shocking, I know — and Udoka yelled out “stop playing like bitches.”
Again, yelling out something like that at LA Fitness would get somebody pressed. In an NBA game, James knows better than to really go after an opposing coach. Instead, he casually walked over to Udoka and told him not to speak like that anymore. The head coach of the Rockets then chose to operate like an instigator at a pickup game, asking James what he was going to do about it.
Udoka also allegedly called James, what the lip reader interpreted as, a “soft ass boy.” A closer look at Udoka’s face in the moment, it is not really discernable what he said after “soft,” so I’ll take @legendz_NBA’s word for it. Whatever Udoka said, the ref heard it and immediately issued a technical foul to both Udoka and James. That was Udoka’s second of the game and he was ejected.
After the game, Udoka was unapologetic about the confrontation during his postgame press conference. He was asked to clarify who his comments were directed at and he said, “the player.” Also, when assessing his team’s performance he said, “To kind of get punked by a team that’s not known for physicality or punking people is not a good sign.”
His opinion of the Lakers is clear. In him being so clear, it is reasonable to assume he feels that way about their star players, one of whom is James. Udoka can harbor whatever opinion he wants about other people, but using derogatory language towards an opposing player as the head coach of a basketball team is highly unbecoming behavior.
But hey, this is the person who lost his job after one year of outstanding work as the head coach of one of the premier franchises in all of professional sports — the Boston Celtics. They hired an independent investigator and determined that Udoka had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and was vulgar with her. They suspended him for all of last season and now he is coaching a team of recent lottery picks and is counting on Dillon Brooks for veteran leadership.
For Udoka to speak to the Lakers and James the way that he did during an NBA basketball game, why should I believe that he learned his lesson? In front of a live studio audience, Udoka behaved in an unprofessional manner. He is the face of his franchise and spoke like a schoolyard bully.
I do not expect the head coach of a basketball team, the general manager of a store or a principal of a school to be a better person than the rest of us. However, I do believe that as the public face of an organization, that person is being paid to be the adult in the room at all times. Being mature is one of the most important parts of the job.
What Udoka did was not only juvenile, it was another mark against him as a leader. He is a very good basketball coach. The Rockets are 8-9 and already surpassed a third of their win total from last season. He has the competence and commanding the respect of the locker room part of his job down pat.
Behaving in a professional manner, however, that appears to be a weakness. A weakness that already cost him a great job. A consequence that doesn’t appear to have taught him the right lesson.