The Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta asked fans to be forgiving on Wednesday as he introduced the team’s new head coach, Ime Udoka, who had been suspended and then fired by the Boston Celtics within the past year for violating unspecified team policies.
Fertitta said any critic unwilling to give Udoka a second chance was “not a good Christian person.”
The Celtics suspended Udoka for the 2022-23 N.B.A. season in September, then fired him in February, after he had a relationship with a female subordinate, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
At the introductory news conference in Houston, Udoka made his first public comments since leaving the Celtics, who have declined to specify which policies he violated. Udoka was flanked by Fertitta and Rockets General Manager Rafael Stone, who also declined to provide details on what they know, including whether they had seen the report from the Celtics’ investigation.
“What I would say is that we got comfortable that it was an appropriate hire and that we were comfortable in the process,” Stone said. “But just the same way, I wouldn’t talk about exactly what we did with anybody else, I’m not going to talk about it with Ime. It’s just, in my view, it’s not appropriate.”
Udoka said that he had been “working on myself in a lot of different ways,” including by undergoing counseling and sensitivity training, and that he would be a better person, leader, father and coach as a result.
“I released a statement months ago when everything happened and, you know, apologized to a lot of people for the tough position I put them in,” Udoka said. “And I stand by that and I feel much more remorse even now towards that.”
He added, “But the situation — the matter — has been resolved and I can’t really speak much about it.”
Fertitta said that he was particularly comfortable with hiring Udoka after conversations with the N.B.A. “We’re a forgiving society and everybody makes mistakes and you know, some things, maybe we shouldn’t forgive people for,” he said. “But I think what happened and his personal situation is definitely something to be forgiven for.”
In a meeting with sports editors on Tuesday, N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said that he was OK with teams hiring Udoka, though he said he did not know if Houston officials had seen the investigation report.
Asked if the Celtics made the right decision to discipline him, Udoka said, “My part in it was to take ownership and accountability.”
“I served a suspension and I had to own it, honestly,” Udoka said. “So, same thing I’ll preach to the guys. I can’t sit here and not take accountability to myself. So it was their right to go about it however they wanted to. And that’s the choice they took.”
Udoka played seven seasons in the N.B.A., mostly as a reserve, before becoming a respected assistant coach for nearly a decade. The Celtics hired him to be their head coach before the 2021-22 season. His first — and only — season with Boston was a success: He helped lead the Celtics to the N.B.A. finals, where they lost to Golden State. Now, he’ll be taking over a Rockets team that has been one of the league’s worst over the last three years. But Houston has significant salary cap space at its disposal, talented young players and high-value draft picks.