The Portland Trail Blazers introduced Chauncey Billups as their new head coach on Tuesday, with officials attempting to both build support for the new coach and avoid pointed questions about a rape allegation he faced in 1997.
Even before Billups spoke, president of basketball operations Neil Olshey addressed the elephant in the room: the opposition among many fans to hiring a coach accused of sexual assault as a player.
Olshey said the team paid for an outside investigation, and he says it confirmed Billups’ account of what occurred.
“That nothing non-consensual happened,” Olshey said. “We stand by Chauncey — everyone in the organization, and believe he’s the right choice to be our head coach, and the right choice to be the kind of ambassador in the Portland community that everyone here has become accustomed to.”
Media reports suggest that Billups was involved in a sexual encounter involving at least one of his teammates on the Boston Celtics in 1997, during Billups’ rookie season. Billups has admitted to engaging in consensual sex in his car with a woman who was the girlfriend of a teammate at the time. The woman has said Billups raped her. Billups and another player settled the woman’s civil lawsuit out of court.
Repeated attempts to get further details from Olshey about the findings of the Blazers’ investigation, including who was interviewed or who conducted it, were not answered. Olshey said such details were “proprietary.”
Billups acknowledged the incident in his opening remarks to reporters and said he’s learned from it.
“Every decision has consequences,” Billups said, adding that he’s thought about the incident every day for years. “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 and about what they may have to read about me in the news and in the media. But this experience has shaped my life in so many different ways.”
One reporter asked Billups if he could offer more details about what specifically he learned, but a team official didn’t let Billups answer.
When asked what he might do to win over a skeptical fan base, Billups said he’d be himself.
“I just think just being me, I’m just gonna be me at all times,” he said. “It’s always worked for me in my life. I’m comfortable with who I am, my passion for the game, my passion to win.”
Billups played 17 seasons in the NBA, was an All-Star multiple times and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He was also one of the possible coaches backed by Blazers star Damian Lillard, who was actively engaged in the hiring process, Olshey said.
Olshey confirmed that the Blazers evaluated more than 20 possible candidates for the coaching position, with two finalists talking to owner Jody Allen in Seattle in addition to Billups. One was Becky Hammon, an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, who would have become the first-ever female head coach in the NBA.
Olshey also said Mike D’Antoni was a finalist for the job. His lengthy head coaching career most recently included four years as head coach of the Houston Rockets. Billups has never been a head coach but spent the last season as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The introduction of Billups comes less than a month after the Blazers parted ways with head coach Terry Stotts, who led the team to multiple playoff appearances but oftentimes struggled to get the team past the opening round.
Billups said he was optimistic he could help the team improve on defense, which has been a weakness of the Blazers in recent years.