|Two sides to every story with Knicks coach Isiah Thomas|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 29 September 2007 10:14|
``I know two friends of mine he owes money to,'' Nix testified at Thomas' ongoing sexual harassment trial.
It was a strange remark about a multimillionaire NBA executive, a two-time NBA champion, one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. But with Thomas, whose cherubic countenance contrasts with an oft-cited Machiavellian streak, things are often not as they appear.
Thomas is a winner - and yet his Knicks, undeniably, are losers. He possesses a choir boy's face and a killer instinct. He's gutsy, charming, confident. Or sneaky, cutthroat, self-absorbed. He's feuded with some of his sport's biggest names: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Karl Malone.
The Knicks president and coach spent the last three weeks in U.S. District Court, fighting a $10 million sexual harassment suit filed by a former team employee - an ugly he-said, she-said legal battle. Thomas, pilloried by the local media in a public relations disaster, insists he is innocent.
The trial jury began deliberating Thursday, and returns to work on Monday.
Isiah Lord Thomas was the baby in a family of nine, his regal name at odds with the grim surroundings of his life on Chicago's tough West Side. Two of his brothers died early after troubles with drug and alcohol addiction.
Barely six feet tall, he joined the Detroit Pistons after winning an NCAA title for coach Bob Knight at Indiana and quickly became a perennial all-star - one of the best little men to ever play the game.
Thomas, with his incandescent smile and affable personality, became one of the NBA's good guys. And then another side of Isiah emerged.
Thomas suggested in 1987 that three-time MVP Bird's acclaim was linked to his race: ``If he were black, he'd be just another good guy.'' Bird publicly forgave him. And then, 16 years later, fired him as coach of the Indiana Pacers.
When NBA players were first allowed to play in the Olympics, Thomas was the highest profile player left off the ``Dream Team'' - reportedly at the insistence of Jordan, although MJ later denied the allegation.
But months before the U.S. Olympians were chosen, Thomas and his Detroit teammates refused to shake hands with Jordan and the Bulls after the Pistons were eliminated by Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals.
And in 1985, Thomas was suspected of leading a ``freeze-out'' of Jordan during the All Star Game. Jordan scored just seven points.
Thomas took 40 stitches to his head after a hard foul from Malone in 1991, with his teammates suggesting it was a premeditated attack. One month earlier, Thomas lit up Utah for 44 points in a game, taking on John Stockton in what many considered payback for the star point guard's selection to the ``Dream Team.''
Malone, Stockton's longtime teammate, insisted it was a simply a hard foul.
Thomas retired in April 1994, and one month later became head of basketball operations for the expansion Toronto Raptors. His reign ended abruptly when Thomas resigned in November 1997 after a failed attempt to buy out the team's majority owner.
Two years later, Thomas purchased the nine-team Continental Basketball Association, a five-decade-old league with small-market teams. The CBA went bankrupt after Thomas left to become coach of the Indiana Pacers; Nix's friends owned the Fort Wayne, Ind., franchise.
After losing his second coaching job with the Pacers, Thomas was hired by the Knicks in December 2003. The team reached the playoffs just once during the Thomas regime, and has yet to notch a single postseason victory despite the NBA's largest payroll.
In recent weeks, the on-court woes were rivaled by his in-court problems with the lawsuit filed by ex-Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders. Thomas, in a videotaped deposition, said it was less offensive for a black male to use the term ``bitch'' toward a black woman than it was for a white man.
But Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan remains a staunch (some suggest the last) Thomas supporter, both for his work with the Knicks and in his role as defendant.
Thomas is married to his college sweetheart, Lynne, and they live near the Knicks' suburban training facility with their two children, Joshua and Lauren.