Greenburgh, N.Y. Isiah Thomas insists fans can influence the way his team is playing.
Whether the New York Knicks coach expressed that belief to anyone in the Madison Square Garden crowd Monday night remains a mystery.
Thomas was repeatedly asked Tuesday about a season ticket holder's claim following a loss to Dallas that the coach scolded fans near the bench for not being more supportive of the team. He eventually acknowledged that perhaps there was a discussion.
"I think I said to the refs, too, I said to the ref, 'If (the Mavericks) let us hang around and we can scrap our way back into the game, we'll have a chance to win it,'" Thomas said after practice. "And I think I may have said that to one of the fans sitting there. 'If we just hang around in this game and we keep fighting, we'll have a shot of winning it.'
"I don't recall being combative. I think everything I've tried to say here has been pretty positive about what the fans want, what we want to give them."
That would differ from the account Mara Altschuler, a fan sitting near the Knicks' bench, gave to reporters after Monday night's game. She said Thomas told fans they were a poor "sixth man" for the team, contrasting their lack of support with what colleges like Indiana or North Carolina get at home.
The Knicks (6-14) have the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference and entered the season following a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former team executive. The Garden and Thomas reached an $11.5 million settlement with her Monday, and commissioner David Stern announced Tuesday there would be no league punishment.
"Fire Isiah!" chants resound throughout the Garden. Though the Knicks say they understand the fans' right to boo a poor performance, the players clearly are bothered.
"They feel like we should be doing something, they're going to let us know about it," guard Jamal Crawford said. "And sometimes you can use that as motivation. But you also don't want to feel like you have a lot of road games as well when you're at home."
Thomas said he occasionally talked to kids sitting near the bench.