Isiah Thomas is a two-time NBA champion, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and a former executive and head coach of the New York Knicks.
Well, you can add another bullet point to the 54-year-old’s growing resume: Thomas is now the president of the New York Liberty, marking his first foray into women’s basketball.
His first professional foray, anyway.
“When you talk about basketball and just playing, we grew up – and I’m sure you grew up the same way – when you went to the park, you played with whoever was there,” Thomas said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “A lot of times, it didn’t matter what gender. We never let that male/female (thing matter). You picked the players that could play. I’ve always followed basketball – male and female – throughout my whole life. In the last three to four months, Jim (Dolan) asked me if I would consult on the Liberty side for him and just take a look at the Liberty and give him my thoughts. As I started working with (Liberty senior vice president) Kristin (Bernert) and we started looking at the team, she and I both had the idea that it would be great to bring (Bill) Laimbeer back. We signed Herb Williams and had a great draft. After that, Jim just decided that he wanted to make it public, and so here we are today.”
Thomas doesn’t feel this career move is as surprising as it may seem to outsiders.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “I work in studio with Shaq and Barkley and Steve Smith, Chris Webber, and I’m good friends with Jalen Rose. So from a basketball standpoint, the basketball community in terms of people who have played – and I would even imagine (people) such as yourself – once you get past the name of NBA or WNBA, you’re really looking at the play. And as we look at the play and the players, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, the slam dunk was the thing. It was Michael Jordan and the slam dunk, and it was the game above the rim. I think the women’s game was judged by the game above the rim in terms of, ‘You don’t have the athleticism. You can’t dunk.’
“Now the game has progressed – or even gone back to the way it used to be,” Thomas continued. “It used to be a game about passing, cutting, moving, the fundamentals – and we described that as beauty. That’s what we talk about now with the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry, we talk about his jump shot, his passing ability – his below-the-rim game. Well, when you look at the way that the game is played and perceived in the women’s side, it is a below-the-rim game. That is what the game is all about. It’s about passing, cutting, moving, shooting, and I think it’s a beautiful game. I just invite people to come out and watch and enjoy the women’s side just as much as you enjoy the men’s game – because they’re very similar.”
Indeed, it’s all about perception, which led Doug Gottlieb to his next question: Isn’t it odd that Thomas will be back in Madison Square Garden running a profession sports team? After all, when he was running the Knicks, he was part of a front office that paid $11.6 million in damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Isn’t it odd – if not inappropriate – that Thomas will now run an organization that deals with women?
“Let me unpack that because it’s a pretty loaded question, and you connected a lot of different avenues,” Thomas said. “The New York Knicks and . . . Madison Square Garden – two totally separate entities. Even though the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden, they’re some 40 miles apart, and you understand that, correct? Okay, Madison Square Garden and MSG was found – whatever the verdict was from Madison Square Garden – that’s what they owned up to. We’ve always disputed the allegations, and I always said the allegations are false. When it was time for (the jury) to decide, I wasn’t penalized. Everyone has done their homework, and everyone has really looked at this case, and whatever the verdict was for MSG, that was the verdict.
“Now, what you just did is, you attached me – or attached Isiah – in a way that wasn’t attached in terms of the findings. All I can do is say the allegations were false. I’ve always maintained my innocence and whatever perception has been created out there – I have a mom. I have kids. What you’re alleging – again, alleging – I have said consistently and constantly that those are false. And that’s all I can really do.”