It has been a long time since Isiah Thomas has recieved fair treatment by the press. In New York, Thomas not only was a magnet for over-the-top hatred by the fans but he was unmercilessly villified by the press as he was disgraced from cover to cover. The press used his horrid coaching and his “Brown(e)” encounters to go overboard — one paper was so unprofessional that it waged a “fire Isiah” campaign and included posters or banners in editions before games. In blogs and in articles beat reporters focused, almost jealously, as much on his natty wardrobe as they did on that elusive smile. While the beats who interacted with Anucha Browne suggested that it was unlikely that Isiah harassed the public relations exec, columnists opined that Isiah was an evil adulterer who held secret Rasputin-like powers over young impressionable men (his players) who thought he was intelligent and supportive.
There are times in New York (and it has been like this for a long time) when the flailing press will try to unite New Yorkers against a demonized figure to sell papers. They would hone in on an individual (like Alex Rodriguez or David Dinkins) with a laser and sink their teeth in like a ferocious pitbull all the time breaching every edict of so-called objective journalism. One reporter made no bones about the bias and judgemental opinions in his work; he reminded a critical reader that he didn’t work for the New York Times, he worked for a “tabloid.”
Well, Mr. Thomas is attempting to regain his life after a series of missteps, some a result of his own actions and others just because he was in the hottest media spotlight in the world with the most storied (if not successful) professional basketball franchise ever. He got a significant boost with a friendly and evenhanded feature which graced the front page of today’s USA Today.
What was impressive was how fairly the author, Marlen Garcia, attempted to reported Mr. Thomas’ recent troubles including the result of the Browne sexual harassment trial. Regarding the trial, he reporter wrote the following:
While he was with the Knicks in September 2007, a federal jury determined that he sexually harassed former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders, though Thomas was not held liable for any of the $11.6 million in punitive damages awarded her. Madison Square Garden, which owns the Knicks, was held financially responsible for creating a hostile work environment and firing her unfairly. Thomas still vehemently denies wrongdoing.
More often than not the New York media portrays the result as though Mr. Thomas as found liable and therefore actually held to have harassed the Knicks employee when the truth was that the case fell apart for Dolan because of the environment he allowed to exist, his unfortunate arrogance and wrongful firing of Ms. Browne. Please Click “Read More” To Continue
Regarding, the near tragic incident which the New York press gleefully reported as a suicide attempt (before certain reporters decided that even that was over the top and called for a moratorium on the hate reporting), Garcia reports it as Thomas framed it:
In October 2008, he was hospitalized for several hours after accidentally overdosing on sleeping pills. Thomas says a year of sleepless nights over the lawsuit combined with the Knicks’ struggles led him to turn to sleep medicine. When one pill didn’t suffice, he took more. He doesn’t say how many.
The article goes on to point out that many in the profession still hold Mr. Thomas in high regard including the late Chuck Daly, Bob Knight, Greg Pingatore and Mike Krzyzewski, all mentors of his. As evidenced by John Stockton’s decision to select Isiah Thomas to introduce him to the Hall of Fame, contrary to the New York press, Mr. Thomas is not the reviled, hated man they want to portray him to be. The article suggests that FIU evaluated the sexual harassment case against Thomas and found that it did not outweigh what he would bring to FIU. The new president of FIU, Mark Rosenberg said,
“I understand that we did the due diligence” researching the lawsuit, he says. “We did the assessments and we didn’t pause once we did the assessments. I’m satisfied my predecessors did the right thing for FIU. Now that I have met Mr. Thomas and understand what his passions and commitments are, I understand the fit and I feel very good.”
As for the recent flap which the press tried to characterize as Isiah Thomas backing out of an agreement to play North Caroline, Garcia fully puts the responsibility on Isiah’s boss, Pete Garcia, a long-time friend of Isiahs.
The article also goes on to compare the managerial success Isiah had as opposed to Michael Jordan and Kevin McHale in contrast to the reputation they all have as success or failures.
While I am certainly not a fan of how Isiah coached the Knicks once he became the coach, I am less a fan of the New York press which delights in selecting cover demons to galvanize the public to buy their rags. In the final analysis history will find a more favorable take on Isiah’s tenure as an executive. Certainly not a persepctive that makes him a great President, but his error was not philosophical but in the character of the individuals he relied upon to make his team a winner. As a coach he was dogmatic and horrible the year he tried to force feed the ball to Eddie Curry and stuck with Crawford, Curry, Marbury, Randolph as the core of the starting unit. However, the coach that followed him as yet to prove that he is any better for New York. At least Thomas talked about developing a defensive mindset where D’Antoni seems to have just discovered the letter “D” is essential to spelling Championship. D’Antoni supporters point toward the increased wins over the previous years and the semi-flowing offense as proof of progress, but they ignore the reality that the Thomas year was an aberration with outside influences that would have harmed any team. Any team is better without such distractions and influences. Last year’s Knicks won the exact number of games won the year before the debacle. In that case the progress is negligible.
The bottom line is that Thomas was bad but never as horrible as the press crafted his image and never as demonic as their refusal to be fair in reporting his demise.