Cavaliers coach John Beilein apologizes after calling players ‘thugs’ instead of ‘slugs’

“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 ESPN.

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Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein apologized to his players for saying they were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs.” Beilein said he meant to use the word “slugs.”

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein apologized to his players for saying they were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs.” Beilein said he meant to use the word “slugs.”

Hannah Foslien/AP

DETROIT — Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein said Thursday he has apologized after using the word “thugs” during a film session with his players the previous day.

ESPN.com, citing unidentified sources, reported that Beilein suggested during a Wednesday film session his players were no longer playing “like a bunch of thugs.” Beilein told ESPN he had meant to say “slugs” in reference to the team’s effort level.

Beilein repeated that explanation Thursday after his team’s shootaround in Detroit, hours before the Cavaliers faced the Pistons.

“I was saying: ‘We’re making a lot of mistakes mentally, and we deserve better because we’re really playing hard right now. We’re not playing like slugs. We’re playing hard,’” Beilein said. “And somehow that word came out.”

Beilein said he called the players afterward to explain the situation, and said he apologized.

“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.”

It’s been a rocky start for Beilein, a wildly successful college coach who left his job at Michigan to take over the Cavaliers before this season. Cleveland is 10-27 entering Thursday’s game, and there have been hints of dysfunction along the way.

About a month ago, a report in The Athletic cited unidentified players saying that Beilein was being tuned out. More recently, star forward Kevin Love had a verbal exchange with general manager Koby Altman. Love also threw up his arms in disgust several times while on the floor. Love later said he was “acting like a 13-year-old.”

Love said Thursday he didn’t think there was malice behind Beilein’s comments, and forward Larry Nance Jr. echoed that sentiment.

“He made a mistake. We all make them, but he apologized, owned up to it, and it this point, that’s all we can ask him to do,” Nance said. “We all heard it, we were all there. But at the same time, I don’t think there’s any player on the team that believes there was mal-intent behind it.”

Nance said Beilein’s comments didn’t immediately sink in.

“It wasn’t one of those things that like, ‘How dare you?’” Nance said. “At second glance, yes. We realized he was wrong, he realized he was wrong. That’s why he doubled back afterward, but at the time it happened, it didn’t catch me right away.”

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