Archive for Sunday, December 16, 2007

Commentary: Thomas no longer viewed as winner

December 16, 2007


Talk about your falls from grace. And to think Isiah Thomas' middle name is Lord.

It's one thing to be the coach and general manager of a bad basketball team, which the New York Knicks are with a 7-16 record. We've seen bad basketball before, and so far the Bulls are only a little better than bad.

But how did Thomas join the legion of super sports villains headed by Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick?

He didn't cheat the national game or commit a crime. He hasn't declared war on anyone or obstructed justice or lied to the country about some extramarital affair.

But now it seems as if the sins have become transcendent for the West Side kid who once was thought of here as an inspiration, surviving the local gang and drug culture as a basketball prodigy who was playing against high schoolers when he was in 4th grade.

Yes, there is that sexual harassment suit that Madison Square Garden lost and settled for $11.5 million this week. I don't condone harassment in the workplace, sexual or otherwise. Harassment of any sort is inappropriate. And I don't know what happened.

This, however, was a curious case, with each side still screaming it was the victim. Anucha Browne Sanders, the successful complainant, told the New York Daily News this week she resented being considered a gold digger and had been vindicated.

Thomas and Knicks owner James Dolan insist it was a bad verdict, which can happen.

Neither side had corroborating evidence for any of its claims. The jury's verdict was against Madison Square Garden, so Thomas was not held liable for damages. The judge instructed the jury that it could find for the plaintiff because of retaliation for filing a suit.

This was a huge embarrassment for the Knicks, for Thomas and for the NBA, although Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, after an explanation, recanted an earlier condemnation of Thomas. Ubiquitous activist Al Sharpton said he saw no reason to boycott the Knicks.

Unless it was for poor play, maybe? That's where Thomas' saga grows most curious.

Yes, the Knicks are playing horribly. They're a sieve of a defensive team with locker-room issues and personal agendas, most involving Stephon Marbury, who mutinied against the team and apparently threatened his own retaliation against Thomas.

It's not going to be easy to cure what ails the Knicks, although dumping Marbury would be a start. He has a history of bringing down teams.

Also, holding the dual jobs of coach and general manager doesn't work in today's NBA. Just this week Miami coach Pat Riley supposedly ripped his general manager for bad acquisitions. Then Miami general manager Pat Riley wondered if he had the right coach.


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