Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein has apologized to his players after calling them “thugs” in a meeting, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.
The 66-year-old first-year NBA coach told Wojnarowski that he intended to say the word “slugs” when he told them they were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs” during a film session on Wednesday.
“I didn't realize that I had said the word 'thugs,' but my staff told me later I did and so I must have said it,” Beilein told Wojnarowski. “I meant to say slugs, as in slow moving. We weren't playing hard before, and now we were playing harder.”
‘Hush fell over the room’
According to the report, “a hush fell over the room when his players and staff heard the words come out of his mouth.”
Players were “initially stunned” and “increasingly disturbed” as they left the meeting, the report continues.
Wojnarowski reports that Beilein acknowledged to him that he realized the racial connotations of the word “thugs” in the context of a predominantly black NBA locker room.
Beilein apologized individually to players
General manager Koby Altman was made aware of the incident and reached out to Beilein, who then proceeded to reach out to players individually to apologize, according to the report.
“I've already talked to eight of my players tonight, and they are telling me that they understand,” Beilein told Wojnarowski.
Rocky start for Beilein in NBA
The Cavaliers hired Beilein in May. Beilein had spent more than 40 years coaching in college prior to joining the Cavaliers, most recently a 12-year stint with Michigan that produced nine NCAA tournament and two Final Four appearances.
His tenure in Cleveland has been troubled from the start as players have reportedly complained about his college approach to coaching professional basketball.
‘Too much harping in film sessions’
From a December report from The Athletic:
Grievances include his nitpicking over basic fundamentals, too much harping in lengthy film sessions, not enough versatility on offense, and a broader lack of understanding of the NBA game and opposing players.
Players started to bypass Beilein and look to assistant coaches like J.B. Bickerstaff for help, according to The Athletic report.
“Guys drowned out his voice, and when guys start searching for the next in line for help, I believe you’ve lost them,” one Cavs player said.
The Cavaliers are in rebuilding mode and have gotten off to a 10-27 start with a roster mostly comprised of young players. Kevin Love, the primary veteran voice on the team, recently apologized for public outbursts over his frustrations in Cleveland.
Beilein is in the first of a reported five-year deal with the Cavaliers.
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