By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
There are a million different things to say about James Dolan, but these two are certain: He sticks by his friends, and he doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks.
If there’s anything you can take from his decision to put Isiah Thomas in charge of the New York Liberty (and make him partial owner), see above. You could also argue Dolan is completely out of his mind for putting someone who was found guilty of sexual harassment in charge of a women’s basketball team.
This city would have exploded had Dolan brought Thomas back to the Knicks (again). Yet, somehow, he found something that might be more controversial and tone-deaf. Having someone with Thomas’ history as the central figure in a sexual harassment lawsuit running a women’s hoops team is something out of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
In societal terms, it’s much, much worse than putting Thomas back in charge of the Knicks. It’s the equivalent of having David Duke put in charge of the NAACP. How will female basketball players feel about suiting up for someone who a jury believed addressed a fellow executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, as a “b—-” and a “ho”?
Madison Square Garden’s statement made it even worse:
“We did not believe the allegations then, and we don’t believe them now. We feel strongly that the jury improperly and unfairly held Isiah Thomas responsible for sordid allegations that were completely unrelated to him, and for which MSG bore responsibility. In fact, when given the opportunity, the jury did not find Isiah liable for punitive damages, confirming he did not act maliciously or in bad faith. We believe Isiah belongs in basketball, and are grateful that he has committed his considerable talent to help the Liberty succeed.”
Dolan, once again defiant to the end. You can just imagine him writing that out in a rage on a sheet of scrap paper between JD and the Straight Shot gigs. Technically accurate, the statement does not take into account that the Garden was found guilty of sexual harassment, with Thomas alleged as one of the main perpetrators. The organization was forced to pay damages, not Thomas individually. That doesn’t mean the jury didn’t think he did anything. He simply means they thought it more appropriate for the company to pay up rather than the individual. The Garden can deny it all they want — a jury of peers found them liable.
Thomas cost the organization $11.6 million, and embarrassment with a trial in which the organization was (rightfully) dragged through the mud for inappropriate behavior. Any head of a business should run as fast as possible from Thomas. Yet, somehow, this is the second time Dolan has tried to rehire his old friend. There’s something to be said for loyalty, and Dolan has that in spades, but on the other side of that is judgment.
Dolan has consistently, in his 15-plus years owning the Knicks, shown a complete lack of judgment in nearly every respect. Whether it is his media policy, moving on from Donnie Walsh, firing Marv Albert, running Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell out of town, overruling his general manager in the Carmelo Anthony trade, the rumored “note card” LeBron James presentation, spurning Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, letting Jeremy Lin walk, giving Allan Houston $100 million, siding with Thomas over Larry Brown (though there might not have been a good decision to be made there), or fancying himself the face and voice of a band of any kind, Dolan makes almost exclusively bad decisions.
This might be the worst. Even the most inexperienced public relations expert… no, even the worst public relations student… no, anyone with a properly functioning brain would advise him this would be a disaster. But that’s the real trick. Dolan doesn’t listen to anyone. He doesn’t give a damn. He is the honey badger. He does what he wants, when he wants. No one can stop him. He seems to get more joy out of his decisions when others despise them. He is his own man. He does it his way and no one else’s.
The WNBA board of governors is going to have to approve Thomas’ ownership stake, which if I had to guess, won’t happen. But no one will stop him from being the team’s president. It’s his job because Dolan can’t stand to have his buddy not working for him, no matter how embarrassing it might be. It doesn’t get any lower than this. It really doesn’t.
Dolan, on nearly level that doesn’t involve spending money, is now the worst owner in professional sports.
For the rest of time, whenever someone asks the inevitable question — even James Dolan isn’t dumb enough to do that, right? — the answer will invariably be: Well, he did put Isiah Thomas, an alleged sexual harasser, in charge of a women’s basketball team. There’s no good answer. Everything is possible.
The only saving grace for Knicks fans is that Thomas will be spending his time with the Liberty, and not the Knicks. Might Dolan ask his opinion on things? Sure. But he was going to do that anyway. For Knicks president Phil Jackson, it’s better for his enemy to be out in the open, not lurking in the shadows. Perhaps Thomas will fail at running the Liberty, making his return to the Knicks even less likely than it is now. Stash him in the WNBA and let him fail and rot.
Or maybe Thomas is one step closer to running the Knicks. I don’t know. Nobody else does, either. The only person who has a clue is James Dolan, and he doesn’t give a damn that it’s a bad idea.
He’s going to do whatever he wants, critics and everyone else’s opinions be damned.
This is James Dolan’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
You can follow me on Twitter @for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.