Dolan gonna Dolan: Isiah Thomas' return will have big implications
By ANDY GLOCKNER
Tuesday's story, as a discrete news item, was almost too easy to criticize, reading more like a headline from The Onion than a real development. Like a creature from the most cliched horror movies, Isiah Thomas was once again back in an official capacity at Madison Square Garden, this time in charge of and as part-owner of the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
Yes, the same man who helped cost Cablevision $11.6 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit from his time r̶u̶i̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ running the Knicks - after losing a power struggle and resigning as an exec with the Raptors, then driving the Continental Basketball Association into bankruptcy, then getting fired after three seasons of modest achievement coaching the Pacers when Larry Bird took over the operations, subsequently got fired at Florida International University after going 26–65 after leaving the Knicks, and now is relatively uninspiring and unlikeable as an NBA studio commentator - is going to be running a women's sports franchise in the nation's largest media market. The same serial failure whose alleged frequent use of "bitch" and "ho" when interacting with former Knicks employee Anucha Brown-Sanders was publicized during the court precedings.
Cue the appropriate level of disgust and vomit.
But as noxious as Thomas' latest gig in is on many levels - and, privately, Adam Silver must be seething about what this latest Boys Club hookup says to supporters of women's basketball and, frankly, women in general, many of whom are also valued customers of the NBA - that's not the story here.
The main takeaway from this announcement is that James Dolan, despite the temporarily perfuming hires of Donnie Walsh a number of years back and Phil Jackson last summer, still hasn't changed one iota. He cares immensely what's written about him, but doesn't care a whit about what you (or anyone else) actually think about him. He remains a legacy child in search of his own identity, and a former addict who seems adrift without his replacement drug: Power. In this context, Isiah Thomas - famous basketball player and connector of people, with a con artist's smile to match his track record - satisfies both of Dolan's relentless, unquenched personal needs.
Of course, Thomas already has said he won't be involved with the Knicks, but he will be be involved with Dolan, which based on the duo's history, means he'll be very involved with the Knicks.
He's already been team president, then president/head coach after the Larry Brown situation blew up, then received a multi-year extension after satisfying Dolan's amorphous mandate of "discernable progress," then was canned from both jobs a year later (after the harassment verdict and costing the Knicks another $200,000 by running illegal pre-draft workouts), only to be reassigned to a titleless role within the club reporting to new team president Donnie Walsh. Awhile later, he was going to be hired back as a consultant before the NBA disallowed it since Thomas had a college coaching job at the time, then was re-engaged just in time to help Dolan hand over everything to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade and grease the path for Walsh's departure.
So, it's not hyperbole to interpolate that this latest go-round spells ongoing doom for Gotham's NBA franchise. While the Knicks have been mostly awful and dysfunctional since the Dolans took over full control of the team in the late 1990s, the evolution of the modern NBA has spawned a Darwinian weeding out of the franchises run by incompetent ownership.
Just look at the recent list of NBA champions, for starters. The Spurs are led by the rarely-seen Peter Holt and are run by the best management team in the sport. The Miami Heat have Mickey Arison and Pat Riley atop their hierarchy, and have become a huge free agent destination. The Dallas Mavericks have the moneyed, passionate, innovative Marc Cuban leading the charge. The Los Angeles Lakers, when they were still winning titles last decade, had the legendary Jerry Buss in command. Now they are a complete disaster under the leadership of his ne'er-do-well son, Jim.
It doesn't just have to be champions that prove the point, though. More and more franchises are being bought by billionaire venture capitalists who are employing exceedingly bright people underneath them. We've seen the renaissance in progress in Golden State, which very well may win this season's title, as well as in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. In contrast, we've seen the impact of dysfunctional, flaky ownership in Sacramento, and what the Atlanta Hawks could do once those kinds of distractions were removed.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Knicks showed, once again, in no uncertain terms, where they are on the spectrum of dysfunction:
Dolan, because of who he is and how he is and what he values and who he trusts, cannot succeed in the current NBA (at least on the court; the Knicks print money), and bringing Isiah back into Madison Square Garden in any capacity is the type of tone-deaf, braindead move that has defined his entire tenure. There is no thinking, just impulse. There is no meritocracy, just cronyism. There is no hope in New York for its professional basketball team, just idle daydreams that at some point, Dolan will no longer be in charge. The shame of it all is that Dolan is not that far away from being an ideal NBA owner - he has a ton of money, and wants to win. He just has absolutely no idea how to go about doing it, but sadly, believes he does.
So, yes, I feel for the fans of the Liberty and the WNBA, because they now face the same kind of dissonance that was discussed ad nauseum leading up to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, and now is simmering in a growingly ugly story about the Seattle Seahawks' drafting of an accused woman abuser. But, personally, I'm more sick about the fate of the Knicks, who are on yet another franchise-defining precipice this summer, and the largest rat in the house has avoided all the traps and is back nibbling on the owner's cheese.
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