The Boston Celtics and the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors have been lauded for their play and the culture they have created. But recent incidents involving both teams have raised concerns about their current culture, and how they will proceed culture-wise in the future.
In Boston, the NBA Finals runner-ups will open this season without their head coach Ime Udoka who will serve a one-year suspension for violating multiple team policies related to reportedly having an improper relationship with a female Celtics employee.
The team that beat Udoka and the Celtics in the Finals, the Golden State Warriors, is dealing with its own PR nightmare these days.
Golden State All-Star Draymond Green and teammate Jordan Poole, no strangers to butting heads with one another in the past, got into a bit of a skirmish following a recent practice. But then a video obtained by TMZ of the incident surfaced, giving a clear indication as to why what happened wasn't just a couple of players having a disagreement.
Green appeared to have landed a hard right jab which sent Poole, a couple of inches shorter and about 35 pounds louder, to the ground as teammates soon stepped between the two.
“It’s unfortunate, I’m not going to deny it,” Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers told reporters following the incident. “It’ll take some time to move through, but we’ll move through it and move forward and I’m confident that we will. We’ve got a good team, we’ve got good leadership, we’ve got some guys that have been here a long time.
While both incidents have their own specific issues, they both raise questions about organizational culture and more specifically, the role that unexpected dust-ups/skirmishes play in the building or dismantling of that culture.
The knee-jerk reaction far too often when these instances occur, is that the teams involved have a bad culture or the players/individuals involved are bad people.
But what’s often forgotten about at times like this, is the very incidents that folks involved are deemed guilty of in the court of public opinion, are not all that different from some of the differences that go a bit too far, in our own families.
That’s why despite the really bad optics in Boston with Udoka and in the Bay Area with Green and Poole, this is not the time for either franchise to try and start over culture-wise.
More than anything, it signals a need to question how they each can make their respective cultures better.
For the Celtics, suspending Udoka for the entire 2022-2023 season was a start. But in a joint press conference with Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck and Brad Stevens, the team’s former coach and current president of basketball operations, both were clear in their words that the franchise needs to do better by its female employees who were unfairly targeted in what became nothing more than a Twitter cesspool of lies.
“We have a lot of talented women in our organization and I thought yesterday was really hard on them,” Stevens said. “Nobody can control Twitter speculation … rampant bullshit."
So for the Celtics, baked into whatever cultural improvements they come up with has to be some component that addresses female employees who, understandably, have every reason to question whether this organization’s actions as it relates to female employees, align with its words.
Meanwhile, the tweaks to the Warriors’ culture concerns aren’t quite as simple. The elephant in the room when it comes to Green and Poole, is money.
Green has been a four-time All-Star who has been pivotal to the team's success in winning four NBA titles in the last eight years.
“I mean, without him, we don’t win,” Myers told reporters recently. “And I want to win, our ownership wants to win, our players want to win. Our players want him on the team. And if you play, that’s the most important thing. Nobody’s saying we don’t want him around. But (the incident with Poole) wasn’t a good moment. That’s the bottom line. It wasn’t.”
While all those who spoke on the matter say they don’t believe the impending contracts for Green and Poole was a factor, it’s hard to ignore Green’s desire for another near-max contract extension at the same time Poole seems to likely land a deal worth around $130 million that would strengthen Golden State’s status as a top-tier team now and going forward.
If Golden State signs one of them and not the other to a multi-year deal, it’ll be chalked up to being a business decision; the kind that reverberates through an organization because of its impact on the franchise’s culture.
Both Boston and Golden State have had periods within their history in which the organization’s culture was not a good one.
That period of time isn’t now.
But just like it took time to change the organization’s culture into a positive one, the same holds true for its potential downward spiral.
That’s why how the Celtics eventually bring closure to the Udoka situation and how the Warriors navigate past this skirmish between players, will be viewed as contributing factors in the direction of each organization’s culture.
Knowing this is half the battle.
Making the right decision, not only for the sake of the fans and players but also for the organization’s culture, is a different kind of fight entirely.