Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein said it was a slip of the tongue when he referred to his players as “thugs.”
He had meant to refer to them as “slugs.”
The incident took place Wednesday in a Detroit hotel, where the team was looking at video in preparation for a game against the Pistons on Thursday night. Beilein told ESPN that at one point in the session he accidentally told his players they were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs.”
“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,” said Beilein, who is in his first season with the Cavaliers after 12 as the head coach at Michigan. “I meant to say ‘slugs,’ as in slow-moving. We weren’t playing hard before, and now we were playing harder. I meant it as a compliment. That’s what I was trying to say.”
Beilein told ESPN he understood the racial connotations of what he said toward a group of largely African American men. He told reporters after his team’s shootaround Thursday that he called each player to apologize and explain what happened.
“There was really positive reinforcement from the guys this morning and last night. Very understanding, but it’s something that certainly they understand that it was serious,“ Beilein said. “Something that shouldn’t have happened.”
Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was on his way to Atlanta for a scouting trip when he was alerted of the incident, according to Cleveland.com. Altman has already spoken to Beilein as well as some players and coaches about what happened, the website reports, and is cutting his trip short to join the team in Detroit to further look into the matter.
Multiple Cleveland players declined to comment on the situation to Cleveland.com.