The Trail Blazers, unsurprisingly, ended up choosing one of Damian Lillard's two pre-approved candidates as the team's next head coach. Just because Chauncey Billups is bound for Portland, though, doesn't mean Lillard is celebrating—at least not while fending off criticism about his role in the Blazers hiring an alleged rapist.
Immediately after reports surfaced on Friday night that Portland's search for Terry Stotts' replacement had concluded with Billups getting the job, many Blazers fans expressed outrage at the team's decision.
Not because Billups, lauded for his work as a rookie assistant with the LA Clippers this season and long considered one of the league's brightest basketball minds, doesn't have the coaching chops to help navigate Portland past its current crossroads. But because he was accused sexually assaulting a woman in 1997, later settling a civil lawsuit brought against him by his alleged victim.
Details of the reported rape can be found HERE (CONTENT WARNING).
Blazers fans didn't just direct their ire toward president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, owner Jody Allen or even the team at large. Some went right at Lillard, accusing him of knowingly pushing for the hire of two men—Jason Kidd, Lillard's initial preference to succeed Stotts before taking his name out of the running, pleaded guilty to spousal abuse in 2001—whose histories include allegations of violence against women.
As Lillard told it on Saturday morning, though, he "wasn't aware" of the claims made against Billups nor Kidd's past as a serial domestic abuser.
Lillard, born in 1990, was seven years old when Billups was accused of rape and 10 when Kidd's pattern of abuse against his then-wife burst into the public eye. It's more than fair to allow for the possibility that an early grade-school Lillard was completely unaware of both situations as they unfolded in real time.
What's much less believable is that Lillard hadn't learned of Billups and Kidds' pasts after naming them as his favorites to be Portland's next coach—especially in wake of the public perception that Kidd withdrew from consideration amid local outcries about his ugly history.
Pressed why he didn't object to Billups' candidacy after the rape allegation made new headlines during the Blazers' coaching search, Lillard demurred.
The reality here is that Lillard, of course, bears some culpability for Portland turning a blind eye to the accusation against Billups. It's not like he didn't have the power or opportunity to object upon the allegation coming to light.
But the hiring of Billups isn't about Lillard specifically, or even really the Blazers. Billups has always denied engaging in non-consensual sex acts with his accuser, while Kidd's nearly three-decade tenure in the NBA continued this week with him being named head coach of the Dallas Mavericks—who just three years ago pledged to address a toxic workplace culture that included allegations of sexual harassment from team higher-ups.
The NBA took no action against Kidd after the serial abuse of his wife came to light. He finished second in MVP voting and led the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals barely more than a year after tendering his guilty plea.
Considering that precedent, is it really all that surprising the league continually pushed the allegation against Billups under the rug as he shook off early-career struggles to emerge as the face of the Detroit Pistons in the mid-2000s? ESPN no doubt knew of the alleged rape when making Billups a fixture of its television coverage from 2014 to 2019, and the Clippers surely did when hiring him as an analyst and later assistant coach.
The NBA can talk all it wants about "leaning in" and supporting women. But until pointed efforts to address league legends' histories of violence against women, confirmed or alleged, are made, it will ring just as hollow to many fans as critiques of his role in the Blazers' coaching search apparently do to Lillard.