Isiah Thomas Rumors
Were you consulted before Thomas was brought in? Phil Jackson: Jim Dolan had talked to us about it over dinner, maybe a month before it happened. We said, “Are you cognizant of the fact that this at least has the look of putting the fox in the henhouse?” Is that a good term? In reviewing the history of it, we were told what the approach was by the Garden and how it went down. Jim said, “If you have any suggestions that you want to come back with, I’m open.” And not being in that field, I didn’t have any information. It’s not where my head is at. So we’re not giving them any advice, and it’s going both ways.
Isiah Thomas’s petition for partial ownership of the Liberty is being examined by a committee of owners from the W.N.B.A.’s board of governors, the league announced Monday. Thomas was the president of the Knicks from 2003 to 2008, and their coach in the 2006-7 and 2007-8 seasons. After being fired as coach, he remained with the team in an unspecified role, even after a lawsuit brought by a former team employee, Anucha Browne Sanders, cost Madison Square Garden $11.5 million in a settlement. Sanders, now known professionally as Anucha Browne, said that she had been sexually harassed by Thomas, who was not found personally liable.
In 2007, the parties agreed to an $11.5-million settlement. Thomas maintained his innocence and was never found personally liable. But Thomas and the organization expected the backlash in his new role running a women’s team. “We knew this would cause some concern,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he hasn’t tried to speak to Knicks president Phil Jackson and danced around a question about whether he would. “Because of that perception, I haven’t [tried],” Thomas said on Thursday at Liberty media day at the MSG Training Center. “All of us in this building, we all share the same building — Rangers, Knicks, Liberty. We all root for each other. We all want each other to do well. We all want each other to win.”
Liberty guard/forward Essence Carson said she’s had a handful of interactions with the Hall of Fame point guard. “My personal experience with Isiah has been nothing but professional … and I expect it to remain the same moving forward,” Carson said. “And I would expect it to be that way for players 1 through 12, 1 through 15 and the entire office on the Liberty side.” Carson added: “I trust the company wholeheartedly and entirely that they made the right decision. Again, my time here has been nothing but the utmost professional and I expect moving forward for it to remain the same and nothing to change, nothing to alter that.
New York Liberty owner James Dolan and new team president Isiah Thomas met with players on Saturday to address a jury’s ruling that Madison Square Garden improperly fired a female executive who accused Thomas of sexual harassment. “They were very open and honest,” veteran Swin Cash said. “That’s what I appreciated … to really address all the issues and not just be politically correct. So that’s I think, as players, what we really appreciated the most.”
Yet there’s a concern that makes all of this even more insidious, if that’s possible. Thomas also was made a partial owner of the Liberty, so he must be approved by the WNBA’s Board of Governors. And if that doesn’t happen, what if Dolan threatens to pull the plug on the Liberty? Sources I spoke to around the league have expressed concern about that. This could turn into a kind of extortion. It appears the Liberty are a pawn in something that shouldn’t even involve them or the WNBA. That’s the “game” of getting Thomas officially back into the fold at MSG. Dolan might have decided that this is a sure-fire way to secure that: Use the Liberty as a bargaining chip.
There are sources close to the situation who insist Dolan is frustrated because the Liberty continue to lose money, and he’s decided only Thomas can help, supposedly because he is an “excellent judge of talent” and could draw more fan interest in the team.
Thomas has insisted that he will not have a role with the Knicks, yet league executives, who have a history with the Hall of Fame point guard, are convinced that Thomas accepted the job with the Liberty as an entry level position to eventually return to the Knicks.
The WNBA Board of Governors has yet to approve Thomas’ ownership and a person familiar with the process believes it will be rejected. It will be interesting to see how Dolan will respond if the Board of Governors rejects his attempt to make Thomas a minority owner. However, Thomas will likely remain as team president, a title that has caused uproar among fans, WNBA coaches and women’s advocate groups in the wake of Thomas’ role in a high profile sexual harassment case in 2007.
James Dolan’s decision to bring Isiah Thomas back to Madison Square Garden does not sit well with Dolan’s highest paid basketball executive: Phil Jackson. Jackson, according to a team source, has expressed concern over Thomas’ presence at the Garden, further fueling speculation over Jackson’s future with the Knicks and whether Thomas could be in line to eventually replace Jackson as Knicks president. “He’s not happy about it but what can he do about it,” said one Garden official, who requested anonymity. “This is just the start of it.”
In the statement released Thursday by the Storm’s ownership group, Force 10 Hoops, which is led by the local businesswomen Dawn Trudeau, Lisa Brummel and Ginny Gilder, the team emphasized its duty to protect the league’s values in addressing “sexual harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault, all of which have been inadequately addressed for far too long.” The statement also said, “As the proud owners of the Seattle Storm, we believe there is no statute of limitations on the mandate that all W.N.B.A. owners and executives serve as exemplary role models and leaders.”
More important to Laimbeer, his players aren’t worried. And he admitted he wasn’t sure how they would react to Thomas’ hiring. “It was unanimous that it was a great thing — I spoke with every player,’’ Laimbeer said. “There were a lot of ‘wows’ and ‘that’s so great.’ It was positive feedback across the board. I was wondering what everyone was going to say. I expected a good reaction, but the level of excitement exceeded what I thought.’’
“The spotlight is on the Liberty — that’s OK by me,’’ Laimbeer told The Post in a phone interview. “People are talking about the Liberty — now it’s detrimental. But people will pay attention — how are they doing, getting better, getting worse. I’m sure some people will want us to get worse. I never ran from that stuff.’’
Thomas also was given an ownership stake in the team, but Richie said the WNBA hasn’t received a completed application yet. “The announcement came out (Tuesday), we’re less than 48 hours” into the process, Richie said. “I’d say both on behalf of the league and personally, I’m in the process of gathering information. Ultimately this is a decision in terms of ownership that is a board-level decision. I will participate in that discussion.” The WNBA Board of Governors has to approve Thomas’ ownership application. “Once we receive that application our vetting process will begin,” Richie said. “We have read the reports in the news and that will be a part of our vetting process, absolutely. We have an annual meeting in December and the rest of our meetings are ad hoc meetings. This would be an ad hoc meeting.”