By Jason Keidel
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This is too easy, too juicy, too lovely, too poetic, too ironic, too New York Knicks.
Did you really think Isiah Lord Thomas returned to Madison Square Garden just to run the New York Liberty?
With all due respect to women’s basketball — which John Wooden once lauded as a purer version of the men’s game — Thomas is James Dolan’s boy, his bud, his BFF, his lifelong hardwood consigliere.
And while you probably read the report in agony, it should shock no one to hear that Thomas was a (not so) secret candidate to replace Phil Jackson as president of the Knicks. No one is more hardwired into the house of horrors we call Madison Square Garden than the Daily News’ Frank Isola, a man not given to hyperbole and surely not a Dolan shill. So when Isola said it was possible, though clearly not cogent, bank on it.
After the PR maelstrom created by Isola’s report, Thomas quickly tweeted that he has zero interest in the position. What else would he say? Do you honestly think he would turn down a chance to return to his dream job? And Dolan certainly won’t concede that his impulses are still historically horrific. But just the notion that Dolan considered this reconciliation is proof-positive that the Knicks have no chance for contention for the next 15 years. Just like the last 15 years.
Dolan has this odd karmic or cosmic connection with Thomas. It’s an odd pair, to be sure, the born billionaire and his Hall of Fame pal who came from the streets of Chicago. There’s nothing wrong with having friends, and you shouldn’t choose or keep them based on public opinion. But there’s something downright creepy about this bromance.
As a corporate duo, Thomas and Dolan were arguably the worst in NBA history. On the court, they lost at an epic rate, made the fans anxious, and then nauseous, to the point where picket signs sprouted up like weeds outside the Garden. Then we had the $11.6 million sexual harassment lawsuit, which Dolan himself told Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s “Real Sports” that he could have settled for six figures had he been willing to negotiate with the victim’s lawyers.
Still, after all the hardwood horrors that this pairing has unearthed, Dolan still said he will always bend Thomas’ basketball ear, and considers him the dearest friend for life.
Let’s assume that Thomas has a sweet side — even if we’ve never seen it in 30 years — and that beneath his awful instincts, lousy decisions, trades for Starbury and such, the $30 million for Jerome James and the like, Thomas is the most pleasant person on planet Earth. What in heaven’s name makes Dolan think a Thomas redux has anything resembling a bright side? What makes Dolan think that you, the Knicks fan, are myopic or dumb enough to digest a Thomas return to the big chair at MSG?
You can certainly hear the wheels churning in Dolan’s feeble NBA brain. I gave you the Zen Master. What more do you want? It failed, and now I get to bring my surrogate brother back where he belongs.
Dolan tried it your way, with Phil Jackson as his corporate and corporeal shield, handing $60 million to the man with 13 rings, two of which came at the Mecca. Never mind that Jackson had never spent a single second as president or a penny on NBA talent. For three full years, Jackson gave you the worst season in franchise history (17-65), nothing but losing, an acrimonious relationship with his players and a most bitter exit from the place that molded Jackson into the brilliant NBA mind he is, or at least used to be.
It just speaks to the tone-deaf nature of Dolan’s professional bond with Thomas, who was never so far away from the throne that he lost the scent. There’s a certain irony, or poetry, to the idea of ushering a solemn, contrite Thomas back to the building he helped to destroy. Or at least the team inside. Maybe Dolan sees that no matter how poorly he pieces together this team, you still come back for more.
Which may say as much about Knicks fans as it does the man who owns the Knicks.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel