New Trail Blazers coach already mired in controversy

Chauncey Billups was introduced as the new head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, and it didn't take long for the news conference to run into the 1997 sexual assault allegation that has dominated coverage of his hire.

Billups and the Blazers reached an agreement on a four-year deal on Sunday, ending a coaching search that began with the exit of Terry Stotts. As Billups became the front-runner for the job, however, concerns about his past only increased in volume.

The 1997 allegation came from a woman who claimed Billups, then a player for the Boston Celtics, and teammate Ron Mercer sexually assaulted her at the home of Antoine Walker. She said she blacked out during the alleged attack and woke up naked with injuries to her throat, cervix and rectum, with additional bruises on her back.

No criminal charges were filed, but Billups and Mercer eventually settled a civil lawsuit from the woman. 

Billups has maintained the encounter was consensual, and the man who hired him, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, told reporters he concurred, insisting that the allegations against Billups were taken seriously during the hiring process.

Neil Olshey: "With all sincerity, and you have my word … We took the allegations very seriously, and we took them with the gravity that they deserved."

— Sean Highkin (@highkin) June 29, 2021

Olshey went on to say that the team commissioned its own independent investigation into the incident, claiming that it somehow corroborated Billups' claims. 

Neil Olshey: "We commissioned our own independent investigation into the incident in 1997. Our investigation corroborated what Chauncey told us, that nothing non-consensual occurred. We stand by Chauncey."

— Sean Highkin (@highkin) June 29, 2021

How an investigation into an incident more than two decades in the past with zero independent eyewitnesses was able to make the team confident in its coach's innocence, all in the span of a few weeks, is impossible to say. 

When asked for more details into the investigation that supposedly exonerated Billups in Blazers officials' eyes, Olshey simply asked reporters to trust them, calling the details "proprietary."

I asked Neil Olshey for more details about the investigation. "That's proprietary, Sean. You're just going to have to take our word that we hired an experienced firm that led us to the results we already discussed."

— Sean Highkin (@highkin) June 29, 2021

Meanwhile, Billups addressed the incident by saying it has shaped his life "in many different ways."

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about every decision we make can have a profound impact on somebody else…it has shaped my life in many different ways"

Chauncey Billups

— Orlando Sanchez (@orlandokgw) June 29, 2021

When a reporter asked how a sexual assault accusation and lawsuit could shape a person's life, a Blazers public relations employee quickly stepped in to say the question was asked and answered.

Here is Trail Blazers PR shutting down a valid question from @jwquick about Billups and the 1997 sexual assault allegations.

This is embarassing. #RipCity

— Dylan Mickanen (@DylanMickanen) June 29, 2021

So there you have it. The Blazers believe Billups is innocent, but won't publicly provide any specifics as to why. Billups has felt the effects of the incident, but the team doesn't want him to say how.

Meanwhile, this whole saga has put the Blazers in a tenuous position with their star player Damian Lillard, who was reported by Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes to have played no part in the hire, the backlash to which may cause him to head for the door from Portland.

Billups joins the Blazers after a single year as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers under head coach Tyronn Lue. Before that, he had spent his post-retirement career as an NBA analyst for ESPN and a color commentator on Clippers broadcasts.

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