By Jason Keidel
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Part two on a triumvirate of athletic icons whose physical heft has been eclipsed by a metaphysical hex. (Part 1 is here.)
If you’re of a certain vintage, you remember Isiah Thomas as more point guard than punchline. When pondering the greatest diminutive players in NBA history, Thomas tends to lead that list, even above Allen Iverson.
Thomas was so sublime you were willing to overlook his ornery persona, arrogance and unwillingness to give the enemy any credit, even when they won. Knicks fans remember him scoring 16 points in 90 seconds of a 1984 playoff game. He played literally on one leg in the 1988 NBA Finals, torching the Lakers for 25 points in one quarter.
In his less elegant moments, he joined Dennis Rodman’s misguided chorus that Larry Bird wasn’t quite the baller we thought, revered largely because he’s white. Thomas’ best friend, Magic Johnson, was the president of the Larry Bird Fan Club. But Thomas didn’t care.
Then we had the conga line of Pistons who refused to shake Chicago’s hands when the Bulls finally hurdled the Bad Boys on their way to the first of six titles under Michael Jordan. The greatest player in NBA history often credited Thomas and his merry band of barbarians for giving the Bulls the balls to take the next step. But Thomas didn’t care.
That’s one reason Thomas was snubbed when the basketball gods picked the Dream Team. Surely Thomas had the heft, the name and the game to make the club. But being a jerk boomerangs back to everyone.
Which leads us to Thomas’ post-playing career. Kelly Dwyer, from Yahoo! Sports, gave this synopsis…
“Isiah Thomas has no history with the WNBA. He has never scouted women’s basketball at a professional level. He failed as coach of Florida International University, as head coach of the New York Knicks, as president of the New York Knicks, and as head coach of a severely underachieving Indiana Pacers team. He destroyed the Continental Basketball Association. He did a solid job with the Toronto Raptors before quitting in disgust following a failed ownership coup.”
And, of course, we have his professional (and personal?) nadir. Despite all the losing and the wretched coaching, the coaxing and the trades and the drafts and the free-agent signings and extensions — Allan Houston, Eddy Curry and Jerome James, anyone? — Jim Dolan had Isiah’s back to the end. Ride or die. Thomas chose the latter, as the key defendant in a substantial sexual harassment case, which found MSG (See: Thomas) guilty to the tune of $11.6 million.
(According to sbnation.com, Thomas has “left burning piles of rubble in his wake everywhere he has worked.”)
Yet Thomas still tickled Dolan’s funny bone and funny corporate ethos. What more proof do you need than this? Dolan picked Thomas to run the New York Liberty, even granting him an ownership stake. Dolan still trusts Thomas enough to give him the keys to the car. Granted, it’s more Prius than Porsche. But just the idea that it looks logical to Dolan for Thomas to own a women’s basketball team speaks to the disconnect of the obscenely rich and absurdly inept.
It italicizes the vastly different worldview of those who fly Learjets around the world, and those of us who live in it. It reinforces the notion that people of certain privilege aren’t particularly tethered to the rules. And once they break them, their penance doesn’t compare to ours.
The WNBA can’t keep Dolan from pinning a few stars on his lapels, making him coach or GM or even president. But it can keep a man with a retrograde attitude toward women from owning a women’s basketball team. And, thankfully, it has.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.