Chauncey Billups was officially announced as the new head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers yesterday during a joint press conference with general manager Neil Olshey. The announcement followed a steady stream of media reports that Billups was the Blazers’ top choice for the role, and those reports led to a significant backlash from fans who took issue with the organization choosing to hire a candidate who had been accused of sexual assault in a 1997 lawsuit, which was later settled.
The backlash to Billups’s impending hire was strong enough that both Billups and Olshey began yesterday’s press conference by vaguely addressing the lawsuit. Olshey started off by assuring the reporters in the room that the Blazers had done their due diligence when interviewing Billups, and referenced an “independent investigation” into the allegations that the team had commissioned. “The findings of that investigation corroborated Chauncey’s recollection of events, that nothing non-consensual happened,” Olshey said. Billups then spoke, saying that the 1997 incident “shaped his life in so many different ways.” And that was just about all the organization wanted to say about the whole thing.
Later in the press conference, Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report asked Olshey if he could provide any additional details about the team’s independent investigation into the allegations against Billups, such as who conducted it and who exactly those investigators spoke to. Olshey responded by saying that was “proprietary” information. “You’re just going to have to take our word that we hired an experience firm that ran an investigation that gave us the results we’ve already discussed,” Olshey said.
A few minutes later, Jason Quick of The Athletic asked Billups if he could elaborate on how exactly the 1997 incident helped shape his life. At that point, a Blazers PR staffer intervened and shut down the line of questioning:
I am sure that Olshey, Billups, and several members of the Blazers’ PR staff had long conversations about how exactly yesterday’s press conference should be handled. Maybe everything went just how they drew it up, in which case they should have thought a little bit harder about their strategy. There is no scenario involving a PR staffer intervening to shut down a question that doesn’t come off as a huge embarrassment for the organization.
The Blazers’ defensiveness was frustrating and stupid for the obvious reasons, but also because Olshey and Billups are among of the few people currently capable of providing some much-needed additional information about what exactly happened in 1997. The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, has been brought up by plenty of news outlets over the past week or so, but all of them have had to rely on scant, decades-old news coverage and a book that was published in 2004 as sources. If there really is more to the story than is currently out there, and if Olshey and the rest of the front office really do have good evidence that Billups was unjustly accused, then yesterday was a great opportunity to provide all that.
But that would have required the Blazers to have actually been interested in justifying any of their decisions, and in having a good-faith exchange with the media and the fans who have expressed their consternation or displeasure at Billups’s hiring. What they sought instead was unchallenged absolution. They wanted to sit two guys in front of some cameras and have them make some oblique references to investigations and personal growth, and then demand that no further elaboration be required of them. I suppose they got what they wanted.