Isiah Thomas was formally introduced on Thursday as the new president and part-owner of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, still proclaiming his innocence in a sexual-harassment case against him and Madison Square Garden that eventually cost the Garden $ 11.5 million. Six million of that was because of a hostile work environment that a jury in federal court said Thomas created for Anucha Browne when he was running the Knicks, which really means running them into the ground.
Thomas keeps saying he has moved on and that the organization has moved on, even though the Garden issued a statement when James Dolan hired Thomas to run a women’s basketball team referring to the “allegations” against Thomas and against the place; even though once the jury rules in these matters — and that jury sure did — those allegations become something known as facts.
Thomas himself, a fabulist until the end, actually went on radio and television and said the jury “found no findings.” He meant against him, still clinging to the fact that there was one holdout who saved him from having to write a big check of his own to Anucha Browne. Apparently Thomas, known as Zeke to his friends and no one has ever had a better friend than he has in Dolan, is still under the impression that the hostile work environment created for Ms. Browne when she was a top executive for the Knicks and one of the top women executives in the NBA, must have created itself.
At one point on Thursday, Thomas said, “You can only live your truth. 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.”
Anucha Browne was at her son’s high school graduation dinner Thursday night when told of another day at the Garden when Isiah Thomas would not just quite let go. Thomas constantly makes you recall a story that his old college basketball coach at Indiana, Bob Knight, likes to tell about something his wife Karen said to him once when he was, in her view, beating a dead horse.
Karen looked at her husband and said, “The horse died.”
Ms. Browne has moved on, and is now working for the NCAA in Indianapolis. She accused Thomas of sexual harassment and Dolan’s solution to that was to fire her. What could possibly have gone wrong with a decision like that? She took them to court and stood in there for weeks when the Garden and its attorneys came after her, and she beat them straight up. Dolan has fired a lot of people. No one left with more dignity than she did, even before he had to write her the big check.
Thomas (l.) still maintains his innocence despite a jury awarding Anucha Browne (r.) a large sum.
“(Thomas) may be living his truth,” Anucha Browne said early Thursday evening. “Just not the jury’s.”
So now, Dolan has brought Thomas back to the Garden, not only given him a job as an executive in pro basketball when nobody else would, but given him a job in women’s basketball. Now, Thomas seems to imagine himself as some kind of “activist” for the rights of women’s basketball players everywhere, eight years after Browne was awarded the $ 11 million and change from Dolan and from Madison Square Garden. In federal court, then, the Garden had done about as well as the Knicks have done on basketball courts in the NBA since Dolan became the big boss of the place. In the end, that jury did everything except dunk Thomas and the rest of them the way pro players dunk basketballs.
Dolan has the right to be this kind of friend to Thomas if he wants to be. What none of these people get to do though is rewrite the history of what happened with Thomas and Browne, and what happened to Anucha Browne’s own dreams about perhaps someday being the woman president of a men’s team the way Isiah Thomas, just because you can’t make stuff like this up, is now the president and part-owner of a women’s team.
Thomas had the Knicks pointed in all the wrong directions when he was in charge. There is no reason not to expect the same during his time with the Liberty.
But her version didn’t matter the way she didn’t matter once she went back at Thomas for the way he treated her. Only his version mattered to the owner of the Knicks and the Garden until the jury members in Federal District Court said that they did not find Thomas’ version credible at all, or the Garden’s version of things, which was that Browne had “tampered” with its investigation into her charges of sexual harassment.
What they did was tamper with Anucha Browne’s life, and her career and her dreams. All this time later, Isiah Thomas still wants to act as if he is some kind of victim here. “I’m proud of the way I’ve lived my life,” he said.
He was stubborn as a player, one of the great players in league history. He’s stubborn now. But he needs to realize the horse died. Front and back. Especially the back.
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