Udoka 'Honored' by Opportunity to Become Celtics' 18th Head Coach
The Boston Celtics remain steadfast in pursuit of their 18th NBA championship banner, and they are hopeful that the 18th head coach in franchise history, Ime Udoka, will help to lead them there.
The hiring of Udoka became official Monday morning, as Celtics President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens announced his head-coaching successor three-and-a-half weeks after being elevated from his former position on the sideline to his new role in the front office.
"Among the many outstanding qualities that Ime brings to the table are his integrity, humility and competitiveness,” Stevens stated in a press release. “he has a relentless work ethic and a vast array of experiences as a player and coach. He’s a leader that is warm and demanding, and we are so excited that he has chosen to join us in pursuit of Banner 18.”
As Stevens noted, Udoka brings a wealth of basketball knowledge to Boston, both from a player’s and a coach’s perspective.
Following a 13-year professional playing career, which spanned from 2000-2012 and included stints with the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs, Udoka was hired to coach under legendary Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. He served as an assistant under Popovich from 2012-2019 and was a member of San Antonio’s championship-winning squad in 2014.
After spending seven years soaking up a lifetime of coaching knowledge from Pop, Udoka moved on to Philadelphia where he became an assistant on Brett Brown’s coaching staff. He stayed in Philly for one year before switching gears and joining Steve Nash’s talented staff of Brooklyn Nets assistants for the 2020-21 campaign.
Throughout his tenure as an assistant, Udoka established a reputation of being immensely respected by his pupils. The 43-year-old Nigerian-American has received gushing reviews from players over the years and even helped San Antonio to land arguably its biggest free-agent signing in franchise history, LaMarcus Aldridge.
The former Trail Blazers teammates became friends during Aldridge’s rookie year in 2006-07, and Udoka ultimately convinced the seven-time NBA All-Star to join him in San Antonio.
“He has always been really cool with me, and I thought he played a vital part in this,” Aldridge said of Udoka’s role in his signing during the summer of 2015. “If I had questions, I would call him. And when things weren’t looking as good (during San Antonio’s pursuit of Aldridge), him and I would talk for an hour or two, just going over everything. He would maybe reaffirm some things that I didn’t understand, or I didn’t think were accurate. I told (Spurs general manager) R.C. Buford, I said, ‘Ime got the deal done.’"
Midway through this past season, Aldridge was once again joined forces with Udoka, as he was bought out by the Nets shortly before announcing his retirement due to a health issue.
It has been widely reported throughout the media that Udoka has also established strong relationships with several of Boston’s current players, including Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, all of whom he coached during the summer of 2019 when he was serving as one of Popovich’s assistants with Team USA at the World Cup. Al Horford also knows Udoka from his one-year stint in Philly two seasons ago.
"Ime’s a great guy," Horford said Thursday morning. "Him and I had a great relationship. He was always very professional. His views on the game defensively - him and I spent a lot of time talking about defense and coverages and things I feel work and he feels work - and things like that. I’m excited about him for what he brings and how he can help our group. I’m looking forward to supporting him and getting this thing going."
With such a combination of playing and coaching experience, along with the ability to establish strong bonds with players, Udoka is primed for a successful start to his head-coaching career with the Celtics. And it’s an opportunity that he is not taking for granted.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the historic Celtics franchise,” Udoka said. “Coaching this talented roster and working alongside Brad makes it an ideal situation. I’d like to thank [Celtics Co-Owner Wyc Grousbeck, Co-Owner and Alternate Governor Steve Pagliuca, Brad, and Vice President of Player Development & Organizational Growth Allison Feaster] for entrusting me with this opportunity. I look forward to getting started right away.”