New York Liberty president Isiah Thomas says he considers himself an ‘activist’ for women’s rights Thursday despite being found liable in a sexual harrassment case during his time with the Knicks.
The New York Liberty’s new boss, Isiah Thomas, tried Thursday to dribble around his history as a sexual-harassing sleazeball by recasting himself as a women’s rights “activist.”
Instead of talking about building a winner, Thomas was dogged by questions of how someone a jury found liable for creating a hostile work environment for a woman could lead a Women’s National Basketball Association team.
He defended himself by playing the mother card — and the race card.
“If you go back and look at my history, my mother was a feminist activist and I was raised by her,” Thomas said. “She has a street named for her in Chicago.
“You can only live your truth,” he said. “And what I know from being an African-American male in this society, you know they say perception is reality, but we know that perception is not accurate.”
Thomas, who was named team president and part owner on May 5, spent the bulk of his Liberty media day news conference denying he’s a male chauvinist pig.
“I’ve always maintained my innocence and I’ve moved on from that,” said the 54-year-old NBA Hall of Famer who was head coach of the Knicks from 2006 to 2008.
“If you go back to the way that I’ve lived my life and the people who have dealt with me personally, I’m proud of the way I’ve lived my life and I’m proud of the man that stands here today before you.”
One woman who dealt with Thomas personally was Anucha Browne, a former Knicks vice president of marketing who sued him for sexual harassment in 2007.
Browne, a married mother of three, claimed Thomas ruined her “dream job” by bombarding her with obscenities and sexual slurs before professing he was in love with her. She also charged she was fired by the Knicks after hiring a lawyer to pursue a sexual harassment suit. A Manhattan Federal Court jury sided with Browne, finding she was entitled to $ 11.6 million in punitive damages from Thomas, Madison Square Garden and Knicks owner James Dolan — who also owns the Liberty and hired Thomas.
The Garden later agreed to settle the case for $ 11.5 million.
Anucha Browne Sanders, a former Knicks executive, wins a large settlement after accusing Thomas of creating a hostile work enviornment for women.
On Thursday, Thomas opened his news conference with a nearly seven-minute statement on women’s rights and racial equality in society.
At one point, he even called himself an “activist” who champions the WNBA and women’s rights.
“I don’t pose as an activist,” said Thomas, whom Browne claimed routinely called her a “ho” and a “bitch” during trial testimony.
Not surprisingly, women’s groups and some WNBA employees are stunned and reeling. The Women’s Sports Foundation launched a Change.org petition Thursday calling on the WNBA Board of Governors to deny Thomas any team ownership.
“How do you pin (Thomas) to the women’s pro team?” Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan told the Hartford Courant last week.
Thomas, a Hall of Fame player with the Pistons, has not had a good run as an executive.
“It’s tough to swallow that he’s going to be a part of the women’s team,” said Donovan, a former coach of the Liberty. “I am so glad I’m not there (coaching). I’ve thought about that every day (since the decision).”
Thomas acknowledged that he has met with Liberty players and had a “healthy and good discussion” about the sexual harassment case. “We felt it was necessary to meet and discuss and have an open forum and let our players ask any questions and then give our side,” Thomas said.
He welcomed discussions with WNBA personnel who also have concerns.
“In terms of their beliefs and their stands on domestic violence and sexual harassment, I’m in agreement with,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, he denied using the WNBA to spring back to the NBA, and brushed off rumors of meddling in the Knicks’ business, saying he hasn’t even spoken to Knicks President Phil Jackson.
“We all want each other to do well,” Thomas said. “We all want each other to win.”
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