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Disturbing Hire? Isiah Thomas Hired to Run WNBA’s New York Liberty

Anucha Browne Sanders was awarded $11.6 million in sexual harassment case against Thomas and MSG.

Thomas (right), was found guilty of sexual harassment against former MSG executive Anucha Browne Sanders. He's now been hired to run a professional woman's basketball team.

Thomas (right), was found guilty of sexual harassment against former MSG executive Anucha Browne Sanders. He’s now been hired to run a professional woman’s basketball team.

 

In 2003, the New York Knicks hired NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas to become President of Basketball Operations. Prior to the Knicks job, Thomas was known for his unsuccessful stints as owner of the CBA and as VP of Basketball Ops with the Toronto Raptors. His track record was as a good coach and once the Knicks hired him as coach in addition to his president duties, many thought that maybe he would be a better coach than executive.

In his face years with the Knicks, Thomas proceeded to make bad deals (see Eddy Curry as exhibit one), turned the team into a laughing stock and was accused of sexual harassment by a Madison Square Garden employee. His friendship with MSG head James Dolan is everlasting however with Dolan seemingly turning to Thomas as a consultant on things concerning everything basketball, even with past sins with the Knicks. After all of this, what does someone like Thomas move on to do?

Why not run and own part of a WNBA team?

It was announced on Tuesday that Thomas was named as New York Liberty’s new team president. He could also have an ownership role with the team if that part of the deal is approved by the WNBA Board of Governors. Despite not having any experience in women’s basketball, on either the collegiate or professional ranks, Dolan went to Thomas during this WNBA off-season and the former Detroit Piston helped in the rehiring of Liberty coach and former teammate Bill Laimbeer and trading for Chicago Sky star Epiphanny Prince.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the New York Liberty and help the franchise reclaim its position as one of the elite teams in the WNBA,” Thomas said in a statement. “Following a conversation with Jim about his thoughts on the franchise, I expressed my interest and enthusiasm for taking responsibility for both the basketball and business operations, as well as for taking an ownership interest in the team. To me, basketball is basketball. These women are outstanding athletes who want to compete for a championship in New York. I look forward to this challenge – not just to win a title, but also to help broaden the team’s fanbase.”

With that said it is odd that someone with the past of Thomas would be hired to work in the WNBA or with women for that matter.

In 2007, former MSG executive Anucha Browne Sanders claimed Thomas, who was Knicks president at the time, harassed her and referred to her as a “bitch” and “ho” on numerous occasions. After that, Browne Sanders said that Thomas continued making sexual advances to her and even insinuated that the two engage in a physical relationship outside of the office. After complaining about the harassment, Browne Sanders was fired when the MSG brass allegedly chose Thomas over the executive. The jury in the case agreed that Thomas and The Garden were guilty and Browne Sanders was awarded $11.6 million, a figure that was later settled down to $11.5 million.

In statement on Tuesday, Madison Square Garden fully backed Thomas and stood by their assertion that the accusations on Browne Sanders are still untrue.

“We did not believe the allegations then, and we don’t believe them now,” the statement said. “We feel strongly that Isiah Thomas was held 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.”

The sheer audacity of James Dolan to hire Isiah Thomas for 1) a position within the MSG family again and 2) to run a women’s team is laughable and sad at the same time. What makes it even worse is that it seems that Dolan is just as clueless as when he tried to hire Thomas as “consultant” in 2010 while Thomas was coaching Florida International University (which didn’t happen after the NBA told Dolan it violated league rules).

Dolan called Thomas in a statement on Tuesday “an excellent judge of talent” even after Thomas was the one who elevated the Knicks payroll to a league-high…and they never even made the playoffs.

For Knicks fans, many are already thinking the worse. The relationship between Dolan and Thomas is something out of The Babysitters Club. No matter what happens, they continue to get closer and Dolan still goes to Thomas for his basketball thoughts on occasion. How long before Dolan scratches the itch and brings Thomas back with the Knicks for a second stint? Who knows but the next 48-72 hours could be interesting within the WNBA and in the New York press.

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Kahlil Thomas

Kahlil is the College Sports Editor for DoubleGSports.com as well as a columnist, hosting the Bump 'N Run column once per week. He also co-hosts a weekly basketball podcast, The Box Out, every Thursday evening with fellow DoubleGSports.com writer Jason Cordner.
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