In any other job, in any other industry - this guy would have been fired a long time ago. The fact that he hasn't speaks volumes about the incompetence of Knicks owner James Dolan. Isiah has failed at everything since leaving the court - from the CBA to the Raptors and Pacers organizations and now the Knicks. He's assembled bad players, fired good coaches, and now instigates fights. On top of that, he does it all with a cocky smirk and smiles his disturbing smile during press conferences. Hmm, come to think of it, Isiah reminds me of President Bush. Both are incompetent yet continue to keep their jobs!
Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News had a great summation of the state of affairs:
Thomas at centerof withering Garden
Isiah Thomas has made Madison Square Garden cheap, everywhere except in ticket prices, everywhere except the money he has spent on a team that can't win games, only fights. Go find somebody lately who has done this much to run the place into the ground.
Thomas got away with another one yesterday, got off without a suspension for his role in Saturday night's wrestling show at the Garden, got off with a fine that James Dolan will pay for him, the way he has paid for Stephon Marbury and the rest of the players on a 9-17 team. What does Thomas care? It's not his money. What does Dolan care? It's not his, either, unless you think he's the Dolan who built Cablevision.
The Knicks couldn't come close to beating the Denver Nuggets in a basketball game on Saturday night. But with the help of NBA Commissioner David Stern, the Knicks sure gave the Nuggets a good beating yesterday, as Stern got his punishments so wrong you don't know where to start. Well, start here: The guy who runs the league couldn't even identify the guilty parties, or who started the thing.
Now the Nuggets might lose their whole season because they lose Carmelo Anthony for 15 games, the biggest suspension Stern handed out yesterday. But no matter how much Isiah Thomas loses, how many games he loses and how much money he wastes and how much the Garden loses in prestige and all the old ideas about it because of him, he just keeps going.
I am standing in front of the Garden on Sunday morning, in front of the famous marquee on Seventh Ave., and remembering what it was like back in the '90s, when it would only say "Michael Jordan Tonight" on that marquee and this was the only place in town you wanted to be. You know when that will happen with Isiah Thomas in charge of basketball at the Garden? Never.
Now, in the aftermath of a fight that everybody but the commissioner of the NBA seems to know Thomas instigated, you wonder what type of further embarrassment it will take for Dolan to tell the guy to go back to Chicago or Indiana, go anywhere and get himself good and lost.
Somehow Thomas smiles through it all as he slips another punch, whether it is the kind of punches being thrown around between the Knicks and Nuggets or a sexual harassment suit against him and Dolan and the Garden. He is as slippery as we've ever had in a job like his in New York. Maybe he smiles the way he does, through all the boos and catcalls, because he has his hooks into a dream sucker like Dolan.
The late great Bill Veeck once said that the definition of a hustler is a guy who beats you out of bus fare and makes you feel as if he did you a favor. That is Thomas, and that is his relationship with Dolan.
Thomas has run through money, and players, for three years. Once again his customers left the building on the dead run Saturday night. And when it was over, there was the sight of Dolan's team president and coach not just smiling in the aftermath of an event Dolan himself called "ugly" and "deeply regrettable" yesterday, he was laughing.
So Carmelo Anthony gets 15 games for being dumb enough to slug the scrub Thomas sent into the game to start the trouble. Denver's J.R. Smith gets the same suspension - 10 games - that the Knicks' Nate Robinson got, even though it was Robinson who did the most to make the incident more dangerous and more stupid than it ever should have been.
Thomas? He gets nothing from Stern, not even a real reprimand. Absolutely wonderful. The other coach, George Karl, is supposed to be the one we blame because he wanted to leave the gym with a big win.
"[The incident] was directed by Isiah," Karl, 10 times the basketball coach Thomas is, said yesterday, speaking more honestly about Saturday night than the commissioner. "His actions after the game were despicable."
Stern did go as far as saying he was annoyed with Thomas for trying to blame the Nuggets for what happened. Really? He couldn't have been too annoyed, because he turned around and did everything possible to knock the Nuggets right out of the ring. Stern must be awfully proud of what the Garden has become on Dolan's watch, and Thomas' watch.
The best part of all this, the most wonderful part of all, is Thomas talking about class yesterday as he defended himself. "Show some class," that's what he said he was telling Anthony.
He knows as much about class, what kind of class the Garden used to have, as he does about putting together a winning basketball team. When he is gone, both the Knicks and the Garden will be better off without him. That's it and that's all. Originally published on December 19, 2006