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The Controversies Surrounding 2 New NBA Head Coaches

NOEL KING, HOST:

The NBA is seen as the most progressive of the big professional sports leagues, often taking the lead on activism around social issues. But some coaching hires this week have people wondering whether the NBA's taken a step back.

Here's NPR's Tom Goldman in Portland, Ore.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: As New Portland Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups sat down yesterday for an introductory press conference, it was a difficult moment. Billups is a highly respected former player and seemed to be a good fit for a team that prides itself on hiring high-character people. But a story recently emerged about Billups when he was an NBA rookie in 1997. He was accused of rape. He said it was consensual sex - was never charged with a crime. And he reached a settlement with his accuser. So it was difficult as team general manager Neil Olshey went right to the issue.

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NEIL OLSHEY: We took the allegations very seriously. And we treated them with the gravity that they deserved.

GOLDMAN: Olshey said the team commissioned an independent investigation that found Billups' claim was right. Nothing nonconsensual happened. Billups said not a day goes by that he doesn't think about how every decision can have a profound impact on a person's life.

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CHAUNCEY BILLUPS: 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.

GOLDMAN: But then the seeming transparency turned opaque. When Olshey was asked for details about the independent investigation, he said, no. It was proprietary.

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OLSHEY: You're just going to take our word that we hired an experienced firm that ran an investigation that gave us the results we've already discussed.

GOLDMAN: After that, a reporter asked Billups to talk more about how the 1997 incident affected him. But a team PR person stepped in before Billups could speak, saying questions about the incident already had been asked and answered.

DIA MILLER: It was frustrating to watch that...

GOLDMAN: Dia Miller writes for the team's fan site, Blazer's Edge.

MILLER: ...To know that people wanted answers. People wanted transparency. And that's not what we were given.

GOLDMAN: Miller counts herself as one of the fans struggling with the hiring decision. There are similar struggles in Dallas, Texas, where the NBA's Mavericks recently hired Hall of Fame player Jason Kidd as the new head coach. In 2001, Kidd pleaded guilty to spousal abuse. He takes over a Dallas team that in 2018 went through a scandal that revealed a long-running pattern of workplace and sexual harassment of female employees. At the time, owner Mark Cuban tearfully vowed to be better. Kidd has his introductory press conference with team officials on July 15.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOCATIV'S "CASTAWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.