When The Athletic’s Jason Quick asked Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey earlier this month about how a 1997 rape allegation would impact the team’s approach to head-coaching candidate Chauncey Billups, Olshey replied, “I’m not commenting or discussing anything, or speculating, about our candidates until this search is completed.”
It turns out Olshey didn’t want to talk much after the search concluded, either.
Portland introduced Billups as its next head coach on Tuesday, and a good portion of the press conference was dedicated to addressing (and not addressing) the details regarding the incident from more than two decades ago. In November 1997, Billups, then a rookie with the Celtics, was at a comedy club with teammates Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker. An unnamed woman alleged that, after leaving the club, Billups and Mercer took her to Walker’s condo and performed multiple “unwanted” sexual acts on her. Billups claimed that any sexual acts between him and the woman were consensual and took place in his car, not Walker’s condo. He never faced criminal charges, and he settled a civil lawsuit filed by the woman.
Olshey told reporters Tuesday that the team understood the initial backlash and concerns once reports emerged last week revealing that Billups would be accepting the job offer. He said the Trail Blazers took the allegations “very seriously” and treated them with “the gravity that they deserved.”
“Even though other NBA organizations, business partners, television networks, regional networks have all enthusiastically in the past and present offered Chauncey high-profile positions with their organizations, we wanted to make sure we had our own thorough process because some things are just bigger than basketball,” Olshey said. “With Chauncey’s support, his encouragement, we not only conducted our traditional background check after offering him the position, we also commissioned an independent investigation into the incident in question in 1997.
“The findings of that incident corroborated Chauncey’s recollection of the events that nothing non-consensual happened. We stand by Chauncey, everyone in the organization, and believe he is the right choice to be our head coach and the right choice to be the kind of ambassador in the Portland community everybody here has become accustomed to.”
After Olshey spoke, Billups offered his thoughts on the incident as part of his opening statement:
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how every decision that we make can have a profound impact on a person’s life. I learned at a very young age as a player — not only a player but a young man, a young adult — that every decision, every decision has consequences. 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 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. My decision-making, obviously, who I allow to be in my life, the friendships and relationships that I have and how I go about them. It’s impacted every decision that I make. It really has. It’s shaped me in some unbelievable ways. So I know how important it is really to have the right support system around you, in particular during tough, difficult times. It’s something that I’ve tried to instill in all of the players that I’ve played with over the course of my career, just sharing some of my experiences and things, that maybe it would help them down the road at some point. But I really, really look forward to providing leadership and insight to our guys, who are young and taking on a lot of responsibility as I was at that time, but just being able to support them and walk them through situations is something that I’m going to take as a responsibility. And I’m thankful and happy to do that because today, today is a great day for me and my family. It really is. I mean, this is my dream job. We knew we would have to address this, but this is my dream job. This is one of the best days of my entire life. It’s a big day for my family. My youngest daughter just turned 15 yesterday, and she shares a birthday with my mother. So this is an unbelievable birthday present for them to be able to come here and celebrate this. So I want to thank you again, Neil, [Trail Blazers chair Jody] Allen, [Trail Blazers vice chair] Bert [Kolde], for having that belief in me, and I’m looking forward to getting to work.”
Chauncey Billups was asked by @jwquick to elaborate on the 1997 sexual assault allegation and how the accusation shaped him in unbelievable ways.
Trail Blazers PR cut it off.
— Evan Schreiber (@SchreiberEvan) June 29, 2021
It seemed as though both Billups and Olshey would be willing to tackle a difficult subject head-on, but neither of them offered much in the way of answers when pressed for details.
Olshey declared that the Trail Blazers did “everything in our power to vet that incident” and found nothing that would “disqualify [Billups] from employment.” However, when asked by Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin about which group the organization hired to conduct an independent investigation and what that investigation entailed, Olshey declined to share specifics.
“That’s proprietary, Sean,” Olshey said. “So you’re just going to have to take our word that we hired an experienced firm that ran an investigation that gave us the results we’ve already discussed.”
When Quick asked Billups how the incident had shaped him in “unbelievable ways,” the moderator of the press conference cut Billups off before he could speak.
“Jason, we appreciate your question. We’ve addressed this,” the moderator said. “It’s been asked and answered, so happy to move on to the next question here.”
Despite what Portland’s public relations department may tell you, key questions were not addressed — not even close.
The Trail Blazers may very well have hired an outside group in order to obtain as much information as possible about the woman’s allegations. But does the organization really deserve the benefit of the doubt if Olshey essentially said “Just trust me” when presented with a straightforward question?
And if the Trail Blazers were aware of concerns about hiring Billups, then why would they not let the man himself respond to them? Why didn’t Billups tell the moderator that he understood the question and, as one of the faces of the franchise, needed to be honest and open about the incident?
Billups, Olshey and the Trail Blazers knew Portland fans wanted answers about this process. Instead, they have only been left with more questions.
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