“NBA player suspected of improper relationship with minor” is the kind of headline that usually stops the press. But little about this curious case involving Josh Giddey has gone by the book. For a tipoff, it was the league itself – not one of its sleepless scoop hounds – that broke the news over last week’s Thanksgiving holiday weekend that it was investigating allegations of an improper relationship between the Oklahoma City Thunder swingman and an underaged girl. In a social media post, a user said a girl who features prominently in photographs and videos with Giddey was as young as 15. Giddey turned 21 last month. “I’m dating Josh!” she screams in one snippet. “We don’t have to talk about it!”
But even as the league office appears to be treating the matter with utmost seriousness and local police are launching their own investigation too, the league-wide reaction has been oddly restrained – perhaps because Giddey has yet to miss a start as a result. Giddey barely addressed the matter when the news broke. “I understand you guys want to know about it,” he said last week, “but right now, I just don’t have anything to say.” Thunder coach Mike Daigneault has been just as reluctant to comment on the allegations or pull Giddey – a leading scorer, rebounder and assist man – from the OKC lineup, filing it under “personal matter”.
Former NFL star Dez Bryant – whose bad behavior was thoroughly chronicled during his Dallas Cowboys heyday – spoke on behalf of the many basketball fans when he blasted ESPN and NBA host Malika Andrews for failing to keep the same energy for Giddey, a white Australian, that they have when they speculate on Black players or coaches who get into trouble. “You went out of your way to crucify [Charlotte Hornets guard] Brandon Miller on draft day over something he didn’t even do,” Bryant wrote on X. “Why haven’t you said nothing about Josh Giddey? … Your parents really raised you wrong. … You just a puppet. … I don’t know how a former or current nba player could sit there across from you and look at you with some kind of respect.”
He apologized, and Andrews did eventually deliver a sober report of the Giddey story – one that her detractors nonetheless found to be in marked contrast with her passionate condemnation of Ime Udoka’s improper relationships while coach of the Boston Celtics.
That’s not to say there isn’t reason to proceed with caution here. The smoking gun is a since-deleted post from an anonymous user whose account has been deactivated. The teen in question and her parents have flat-out refused to cooperate with officials. One member of Giddey’s family called it a “royal stitch-up“ – Australian for Manti Te’o-style catfishing scandal. What’s more, the sports media industrial complex, as currently constructed, still isn’t quite built to handle thorny stories like this – which have only become more prevalent in this tawdry social media age. This week, it was the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks shooting down rumors that they cut Corey Perry, a Stanley Cup winner and former league Most Valuable Player, because he had an affair with the mother of the team’s top draft pick.
When reporters asked Sam Presti for his takeaway on Giddey at the end of last year, the Thunder GM hesitated for an eternal 15 seconds before saying, finally “Age is a number” – a cryptic summation that many fans have taken as confirmation that the league and the Thunder have known about this situation for some time. When Oklahoma City played at Minnesota on Tuesday, Giddey was booed practically every time he touched the ball.
The NBA is not especially adept at judging improper relationships. It still honors Karl Malone, who impregnated a 13-year-old when he was a 20-year-old sophomore at Louisiana Tech and still went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career. Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, 53, is reportedly divorcing his wife of seven years, whom he met when she was an 18-year-old team cheerleader. Kobe Bryant was 21 when he started dating his wife, Vanessa, who was 17 then – but California’s weird when it comes to this stuff, too. On the one hand, its age of consent (18) is the highest in the country. On the other, it’s the rare state where a minor, regardless of age, can get married with approval from a guardian and a court order. California is where the girl in question is Giddey’s case is from; in Oklahoma, where Giddey works, the age of consent is 16.
It’s a vast gray area in the law books made likely worse by the NBA’s increasing reliance on young players. Expecting their young prodigies to go from being on campus one minute to being strongly discouraged from talking to the same girls they did weeks ago is a big ask but part and parcel with becoming a pro. Black athletes in particular have been brought down for less. Genarlow Wilson, a bright football prospect with multiple scholarship offers, was convicted of aggravated child molestation at age 17 for having consensual sex with a 15-year-old. The judgment came with a 10-year sentence because of Georgia’s historical reluctance to apply Romeo and Juliet-style exceptions to teens and young adults close in age who engage in sexual activity, most notably in cases involving interracial relationships between Black boys and white girls. (Wilson spent more than three years behind bars before his sentence was overturned; his case ranks among the most controversial and expensive in American history.)
That Giddey is already getting the benefit of the doubt from fans inclined to believe that maybe these kinds of relationships are accepted in Australia, where the age of consent is between 16 and 17, speaks to the level of privilege that Giddey enjoys relative to his Black peers. “Because we don’t know the facts and we represent a network, we have to make sure Is are dotted and Ts are crossed,” ESPN’s Stephen A Smith said before rising to his colleague’s defense. “It’s not about protecting Malika Andrews. It’s about protecting the industry. It’s about understanding and making you understand what comes along with this job.” Which is to say: Smith had more energy for Andrews’s detractors than he did for the subject at hand.
More to Bryant’s main point: the circumstances of Ja Morant’s conspicuous case were murky, too. We have yet to see conclusive proof that the infrared laser that spooked the Pacers was attached to a gun or that he even pointed it, that the handgun he flashed at the Denver strip club was real or even his, or that the gun he flashed in the jeep with his best friend was real or even his – or if he was carrying that second weapon in native South Carolina, where gun laws are relatively lax.
The only allegation against Morant that’s halfway concrete is Morant roughing up a teen during a pickup game – and given Draymond Green’s pugnacious history, that hardly seems an excommunicable offense. And yet Morant was hit with a 25-game suspension and lost major endorsements for the crime of trifling with his stature as the league’s most high-profile young American player at that time, and his Memphis Grizzlies – a four-win team after a second-place finish in last year’s Western Conference standings – are paying dearly.
The Thunder are this year’s Grizzlies – an eager, explosive outfit flying high in the west with the right stuff to make their deepest playoff run since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were on the roster. Until last week, their biggest problem was divvying up the minutes between their young players. Giddey is an adult who should know better. If the NBA considers the glorification of gun culture a cardinal sin with the potential to adversely influence kid fans, then surely a player engaging in a relationship with a minor can’t be much better. The league should treat Giddey no differently than it would any other player who infringes on its values and ethics and act swiftly and decisively. Otherwise, they’re just playing to the same old double standard.