Isiah Thomas and Pete Garcia sat on stage smiling and talking big at a pep rally disguised as a news conference.
No matter how much rah-rah and spin they offered, though, it was hard to think about anything other than which is the saddest and most desperate party in this surreal marriage of convenience between Florida International basketball and Thomas.
Is it the Hall of Fame ex-player trying to rehabilitate his image by taking over an insignificant program in a college basketball wasteland? Or is it the athletic director with his own issues as boss transparently trying to earn buzz at the expense of the school’s integrity and reputation?
FIU officials had no use for that line of thinking, so they tried to make the mood as friendly as possible Wednesday by loading the audience with FIU students, staff and Miami-Dade political types. Serious questions still managed to get asked, if not really answered.
For instance, a reporter wondered why Garcia kept touting his “research” into Thomas’ past when Knicks President Donnie Walsh said no one from FIU called the team about Thomas.
“I know Isiah,” Garcia kept saying while citing their mutual friends, apparently the chief sources for Garcia’s “vetting” (though he wouldn’t say exactly whom he consulted).
Garcia insisted he didn’t hire Thomas for the publicity. Then he bragged about the attention FIU is getting from hiring Thomas.
“FIU has been talked about more in the last 48 hours than in the last 30 years,” Garcia said.
Maybe, but look at what they are saying.
They wonder why FIU hired Thomas after he left messes with the Knicks and Raptors and ran the Continental Basketball Association into the ground. They wonder why the school wanted a guy whose behavior with a female Knicks executive cost MSG nearly $12 million, and whom authorities said they treated for what they termed an accidental overdose of sleeping pills last October.
On campus, FIU faculty and women’s groups already are organizing to protest Thomas’ hiring. Guess they didn’t get invited to the news conference.
“I guarantee you we are getting a great human being, a great father, a great friend,” Garcia said.
Thomas had no real answer when asked how he would explain his past controversies to the parents of recruits. Thomas inexplicably replied that some parents have named their children after him before rambling about how no one stays on top and that he’d taught his children “that when you get knocked down, you’ve got to get up.”
But remember that Thomas explained away the drug overdose by telling media it was actually his daughter who had a medical issue. That puts a different spin on Garcia’s incessant promotion of Thomas’ high character.
Garcia offered more misdirection by announcing that Thomas turned down his first year’s salary of about $220,000. No doubt that helps a bit with the school’s budget crunch.
But Thomas still will collect about $14 million from the Knicks, who owe him that less any salary he makes elsewhere. So the Knicks essentially are picking up FIU’s tab for a year and Thomas gets some good PR.