The Book on Isiah

While David Simon deserves all due credit, it should be noted that Isiah Thomas has also "prepared an elaborate, moving brief for despair and (ultimately) indifference" – the New York Knicks. Being on vacation at home in New York, I sometimes turn to "the home of Knicks basketball, 1050 ESPNRadio" and listen to Brandon Tierney do the post-game show until midnight. Every night the show has the same ominous feeling that came just before Bodie was killed on The Wire. Every night. Tierney would be McNulty in this analogy. (Here is his MySpace page)

As I write this, the Knickerbockers are getting ready to leave their hotel rooms for the AT&T center in San Antonio. Recently they suffered their eigth consecutive double-digit loss at Madison Square Garden. This humiliation came at the hands of the Sacramento Kings, a mediocre team when healthy. Two nights ago the Kings were missing their three top starting players to injuries. This happened the day after Thomas, the Knicks GM and coach, promised the New York media that the he’ll bring a championship to MSG, the place Michael Jordan referred to as "the Mecca" of basketball.  "I know people will laugh even more at me," he said, "but I’m hell bent on getting this accomplished and making sure that we get it done,"

Of course, Thomas also promised that he would be cleared of the sexual harassment charges of Anucha Browne Sanders, saying "I will not allow her or anybody, man or woman, to use me as a pawn for their financial gain." The Knicks eventually settled for 11.6 million dollars.

Thomas, I’m not afraid to say, is one of the worst people in basketball. Petulant is the right word. In the 1985 All Star Game he instructed teammates to freeze out Michael Jordan, a starting player. Jordan only attempted nine shots that night. After beating Jordan’s Bulls for three consecutive years in the playoffs, the Pistons went down to defeat in 1991 at the hands of "His Airness." Of course, Isiah led the defeated team off the court with 7.9 seconds left, refusing to shake hands. In 1992 Isiah was not selected for the first "Dream Team." Reportedly Jordan, Larry Bird and Karl Malone did not think he would make a good teammate. Thomas complained that John Stockton had been chosen over him in a "package deal" with Malone and in his next game against the Utah Jazz point guard, scored 44 points against him. Appropriately in the next Pistons-Jazz matchup Malone elbowed Thomas in the face, requiring "Zeke" to get 40 stitches.

Thomas has also threatened’s top hit-getter, and one of the most influential writers of my lifetime, Bill Simmons on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show. Simmons must have been pleased to write the definitive guide to the sexual harassment trial.

This is all a way of introducing Simmon’s piece on "chemacterility," a terrible name for the concept that you don’t want your entire team of basketball players to be headcases like the Knicks.

…it’s an amalgam of three concepts that have formed the foundation of the Duncan era in San Antonio: chemistry, character and (cap) flexibility. As soon as Duncan arrived, in 1997, Popovich and Buford began to avoid bad guys and bad contracts, preferring role players, quality guys and short-term deals. They’re so fanatic about chemistry that when Luis Scola jumped to the NBA this summer, they traded his rights, partly because they weren’t sure he could adjust from being a star in Spain to being a supporting player here. They didn’t even want to take the chance he’d screw them up!

Of course, this was probably becoming common knowledge among basketball executives before Simmons caught on. (I mean, the success of the Spurs and the Pistons is not new) So why has Isiah Thomas continued to give 20/10 players who are labeled "unmanageable" long expensive contracts – such that the Knicks are contractually obligated to be terrible until at least 2010 – more likely 2012? Could it be that they remind him of himself in the 80s? I can’t say.

But how much does Isiah need to fail before he is fired? You may think this is just some sports issue that I lured you into reading with a reference to The Wire, but really, Isiah Thomas’ continued reign as the Knicks GM and coach is a threat to meritocracy everywhere. The man was a great basketball player, sure. But he single-handedly destroy the CBA.

As Wikipedia put it:

After his purchase of the CBA, the league was forced into bankruptcy and folded. Many CBA managers blamed Thomas for the league’s failure, citing mismanagement and out-of-control spending on his part. Many such managers publicly declared that Thomas ran the league into the ground, possibly on purpose to eliminate the non-NBA-owned minor league in order to make room for the NBA-owned NBDL. The last paycheck was never paid to many of the teams, such as the Quad City Thunder.
Look at what he is doing to the Knicks. Does anyone think Steve Francis was a good idea? Or Randolph? What qualifies this man to manage anything?


Then again, don’t trust everything Wikipedia says about Thomas. Some brilliant Knicks fan (who should get free lunches at Brother Jimmy’s for life) took a dig at the perpetually out-of-shape Curry.  "Thomas traded away multiple lottery first round picks, including a first rounder in the 2007 NBA Draft to Chicago in a deal for Eddy Curry, who weighed 1,485 pounds at the time of the trade. The result of the draft lottery was that the traded pick ended up being the ninth overall pick in a widely regarded talent-rich draft"
While I’ve never been a fan of the Knicks, I do want to prevent the end of meritocracy as a valid concept for our country. Then again, maybe if New York Knicks fans riot and destroy Manhattan (perhaps Thomas trades fan favorite David Lee?) it could end the presidential hopes of Michael Bloomberg. Worth it?