Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Isiah Thomas’ Category

Pistons THIS Close To Being Victimized By Isiah The Exec

In Isiah Thomas, Pistons on April 20, 2008 at 3:03 pm

When a basketball player arrives for a press conference on crutches, you pretty much have your lead for the early editions when the story is the next day’s game.

_______ WON’T PLAY, the ensuing headline should scream.

But the name in the blank was Isiah Thomas’s, which means that all bets were off.

When a team is down by ten points with about a minute left in a playoff game, you’d think that you could start pounding out the beginnings of your opening graph for the editor.

“The Pistons fell last night, to the New York Knicks …” it would say.

But the leader of the team was Isiah Thomas, which means such an opening sentence wasn’t necessarily fait accompli.

When a basketball player limps up and down the court, grimacing in pain, you’d figure that he’s soon to be removed from the game.

But the limping player was Isiah Thomas, and the contest was Game 6 of the NBA Finals, so leaving simply wasn’t an option.

Truth? I’d rather remember Thomas in this manner – as the shrimp-sized leader with the lion-sized heart who practically willed his team to victory. I’d rather recall him as the little dude who proved all the experts wrong – those who said you can’t build a championship basketball team around a point guard.

I’d just as soon remember all that, rather than what he is today, which is a cartoonish symbol of all that is wrong with basketball in New York.

I’ve been watching professional basketball for 38 years, and no one – NO ONE – was a tougher son of a bitch on the floor than the Pistons’ cherubic Isiah Thomas. He was a smiling assassin – a mighty mite of a player who liked losing as much as getting a root canal without anesthesia. There were nights when the Pistons won solely because of Thomas’s will; there were nights when they lost despite his best efforts, because his teammates failed him. But never did they lose because of him.

That’s what it was, when Isiah Thomas was a player. When his work attire was Nike, not Armani.

Today, Thomas is out of work for all intents and purposes, given the ziggy by the Knicks as their coach. Weeks ago, Thomas lost the first part of his hyphenated job – when the Knickerbockers hired longtime NBA man Donnie Walsh and thus displaced Thomas as team president. But Isiah remained as coach, until the season was over, and Walsh looked at the mess the 23-59 Knicks had become, and confirmed his status as a basketball genius by canning Thomas. The second half of the hyphenated job was now also pulled from Isiah’s grasp.

It’s what happens, though, when you have a year that included being confirmed as a sexual harasser by a former employee and then got worse, if you can imagine. There were feuds with players and nightly chants of “Fire Isiah” coming from the loge seats at Madison Square Garden. And there was losing, always the losing. Unlike when he played the game, Isiah was now the cause of the losing. Walsh didn’t earn his reputation as a brilliant basketball man by not being able to discern such things.

The list of gaffes Isiah has made in Armani is nothing if not impressive in its variety: the failed attempt to guide the Continental Basketball Association, the failed attempt to guide the Toronto Raptors, the failed attempt to guide the Indiana Pacers. And now, the biggest and blackest eye: the soiling of basketball in New York.

It’s a New York game, basketball is. It starts on the playgrounds with the chain link nets and continues into the grammar schools and proceeds clear through until high school, where legends of the court have grown like corn does in Iowa. Upon graduation, the hoop stars are recruited into any one of the multitude of colleges within a puddle-jumping plane ride away from each other: Syracuse, Seton Hall, Rutgers, St. John’s. The elite, superstar high schoolers have the entire continental United States at their feet, begging them to enroll.

But the Knicks are still the straw that stirs the New York basketball drink. And Isiah has, in about four years since being handed the keys to the executive washroom, made that drink go flat. The Knicks are now a national joke, and that’s so unlike it used to be, when New York’s NBA team performed for the Garden patrons through the haze of cigar smoke and, along with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia Warriors, carried the league on their shoulders.

It used to be every New York kid’s dream to play for the Knicks – even though the league championship hasn’t called The Big Apple home since 1973. There was still an aura about the New York Knicks, even through some lean years. But it’s not an aura any longer; it’s a stench.

We might chuckle at Isiah’s Knicks from our comfy seat in Detroit, where the Pistons contend annually for NBA supremacy. But lest we not forget that had it not been for some loose Isiah lips, the Pistons very well could have been Thomas’s first post-playing career victim.

When Isiah retired in 1994, he helped leak a story: that he would become an integral part of the Pistons front office upon hanging up his sneakers. He encouraged the talk, and it was duly reported – even as, heaven forbid, actual fact.

This did not sit well at all with Pistons owner Bill Davidson, a fierce guardian of loyalty and trust. Davidson saw Isiah’s bragging as a breach of unwritten contract. For Thomas was not to have said anything until Davidson deemed it OK. So the man who traded the legendary Dave Bing over a contract dispute – Davidson never understood those, either – disowned Isiah Thomas. Never would Isiah, as long as Davidson was alive, be allowed to sit his fanny in any sort of leather chair in the Pistons front office. End of story.

So Isiah went elsewhere to scratch his basketball itch. He left a path of destruction in his wake. The New York Knicks are just the latest ruined entity. The Pistons could have been among them, had Thomas not opened his mouth too soon.

Happy Thanksgiving, seven months early!

The Race Is Soon To Be On: LB Against Isiah For Another Coaching Job

In Isiah Thomas, Larry Brown, NBA, New York Knicks on April 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm

OK, so who’ll get another NBA coaching job first: Isiah Thomas or Larry Brown?

Brown is acting like a strung-out morphine addict. He was quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer thusly: “I’ve got to figure out if I can get a coaching job. I want to get back so bad. I’m so bored.”

Geez. I don’t know whether to laugh, feel sorry for him, or order him under a suicide watch.

There’s more.

“I just miss it. After my last experience (with the Knicks in ’05-’06), I just want to go where I can do a better job and move forward.”

I haven’t seen a lobby for an NBA coaching job this brazen since Dickie Vitale ran around Detroit, telling anyone who’d listen (or even those who didn’t) that he wanted to coach the Pistons, some 30 years ago. Vitale’s campaign — aided conveniently by the Detroit media — was successful, a lot more so than his actual coaching stint.

Should Brown be allowed back onto an NBA sideline? Well, professional sports are filled with enough stool pigeon owners that this is certainly a possibility. The ironic thing — and what isn’t good for Brown’s aspirations — is that the kind of team he’d fit best with is a veteran-laden club that is oh-so-close to a championship; so close that they can taste it. But this is also the kind of team that Brown could do the most damage to; he’s likely to barge in and start fixing things rather than tweak them. He’s a human double-edged sword, Larry Brown is.

Brown: he just loves this SOO much

And a young team would be foolish to hire Brown, if only because the coach might commit Hari Kari before the year was done.

So the verdict, Mr. Eno?

Brown finds a sucker someday and gets something, anything. His coaching thirst will be quenched. He’ll do more damage than good, but at least he wouldn’t be bored — until he gets canned less than two years later.

Thomas will soon be out of work, too. If Donnie Walsh, the Knicks’ new Lord of The Hoop, is even one-eighth the genius he purportedly is, he’ll can Zeke. If he doesn’t, then Walsh should have his stripes yanked off his Armani suit. Only dumb-dumbs keep odiferous reminders of a losing tradition when they’re hired with the expressed directive to blow things up and do “whatever’s necessary” to right the ship.

Strangely, I think Thomas might actually find a coaching job sooner than the desperate Brown, who he fired from the Knicks two years ago. Isiah can actually coach a bit, and an expulsion from New York would be a good thing for him, frankly. He’s the opposite of Brown; Thomas would fit well with a younger, smaller market team that is more apt to listen to him with wide-eyed eagerness, as opposed to eye-rolling disdain, as the Knicks players tend to do with him.

There was a time when I was certain Thomas would surface in Bloomington, Ind., as the coach of his alma mater Hoosiers. That’s now not going to happen, with IU hiring Tom Crean the other day.

Thomas and Brown will both be back in the NBA, coaching someone someday. But Isiah should never be allowed the keys to another team’s executive washroom ever again. After his shenanigans with the Raptors, the CBA, and the Knicks, you’d think that would be a no-brainer type of declaration.

You’d THINK.

Life Out Of Sneakers Unkind To Isiah

In Isiah Thomas, NBA, New York Knicks, Pistons on December 2, 2007 at 4:15 pm

He’s done so many things wrong since he traded in his sneakers for wing-tipped shoes, has folded so many times in the clutch, that you almost forget that there was a time when Isiah Thomas owned the tensest moments of any big basketball game.

Almost always it was true – when Isiah would take over – doing what the so-called experts said could not be done, which was to be a little man and lead a team to an NBA championship.

There wasn’t any question that Thomas, just 20 years old, was the most spectacular player available in the 1981 draft. He was coming off an NCAA title with Indiana University, and would be, after only two years in college, either the first or second pick overall.

The Dallas Mavericks held the first pick off the board.

The Mavs fancied small forward Mark Aguirre, a Chicagoland friend of Thomas’s, from DePaul University. It was a toss-up as to whether the Mavericks would pick the scorer Aguirre or the playmaker Thomas.

“Isiah was the more complete player,” Jack McCloskey, Pistons GM at the time, told me last year in a telephone interview. “We knew we’d absolutely take him if the Mavericks didn’t. I knew we needed the creativity that Isiah provided.”

So the Mavs took Aguirre, and McCloskey snapped up Thomas, and almost as soon as he did, the naysayers were out.

It was still the era of the Big Man in the NBA. It didn’t help that, two years earlier, the Los Angeles Lakers drafted themselves a 6-foot-9 point guard, Magic Johnson. History has told us that when the Boston Celtics battled first the Philadelphia 76ers, and then the Lakers for league supremacy in the late-1960s, early-1970s, you might as well forget the other eight players on the court – the real duel was between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, the two centers. The two big men. Both teams had Hall of Fame players galore, but Celtics-Sixers/Celtics-Lakers boiled down to Russell-Chamberlain.

No way, the basketball masses said, could you ever hope to build a championship team around a 6-foot-1 point guard.

McCloskey was a Big Man guy. Height fascinated him, to a fault. There was a seven-foot jewel named Ralph Sampson, dominating at Virginia, when Thomas went pro. But Sampson elected to stay in school. Had he come out, McCloskey would have drooled. And after looking at Ralph Sampson’s pro career, I’ll bet McCloskey thanks his lucky stars that Sampson opted to stay in college in 1981.

So McCloskey went to work, trying to build a championship team around a Little Man. It took him eight years, but he did it. One of the final pieces he added, via trade, was a scoring small forward named Mark Aguirre.

That McCloskey succeeded was because Isiah Thomas, all six-foot-one of him, wouldn’t have it any other way. If he had to score, he scored. If he had to pass the ball, he passed the ball. And when a game needed to be seized, he did that, too. He smiled a lot in those days, his cherubic face hiding the heart of an assassin.

Now, though, Thomas can do little right. And he doesn’t smile as much.

His missteps actually began before he even officially retired as a player.

Filled with some sort of jingoism, Thomas announced, prematurely, that he had an agreement with Pistons owner Bill Davidson to be involved mightily in the team’s front office after his playing days. Only, there never really was such an arrangement, and the public proclamation irritated Davidson to no end. And Thomas then learned what the last great Pistons guard before him, David Bing, learned about 20 years earlier: Bill Davidson had little use for nostalgia and history if he felt slighted. Bing had held out for more money in 1974, Davidson’s first year of ownership. This was against the businessman’s grain. A year later, Davidson traded Bing.

So there was no place at The Palace for Isiah when he retired. His spot in the front office would be taken a few years later by his backcourt mate, Joe Dumars.

The Midas Touch was gone from Isiah’s hands in retirement. First he tried to resuscitate the Continental Basketball Association, which was kind of like AAA-ball for the NBA. He finagled his way into a commissioner-like role with the league, and the results were less than impressive.

Next up was an executive position with the Toronto Raptors. Isiah was back in the NBA. His few years in Toronto were very forgettable. Thomas was now 2-for-2 in leaving a basketball entity in worse shape than when he found it.

Rare post-playing smiles: Thomas breaking out with the Raptors (above) and celebrating a birthday with the Pacers (below)

Make it 3-for-3. The Indiana Pacers were next in Isiah’s path of destruction. He was a GM. Then he was a coach. Then Larry Bird took the keys to the executive washroom, and he and Isiah didn’t see eye-to-eye, a carryover from their playing days. Bird soon dismissed Thomas.

Today, Isiah is fiddling around with the New York Knicks, once one of the proudest franchises in the entire NBA. They’ve been a mess for awhile, and in fairness, they were out of sorts a bit when Isiah arrived a few years ago. But he hasn’t done anything to stop the blood flow. First he was strictly a GM, then he was told to coach the team, too, if he wanted any chance to hold on to his job.

The results on the court have not been for the squeamish, but even worse has been what’s gone on off the court.

There was a suit brought by a former female employee, accusing Thomas of sexual harassment. Out of those proceedings came the allegation that Thomas apparently saw fit to call certain women “bitches” – and without remorse, pending the circumstance.

Then, two weeks ago, guard Stephon Marbury inexplicably left the team for a couple of days, with little to no explanation. When he returned, Thomas reinserted him into the starting lineup, as if nothing had happened. Marbury was fined $200,000, but that was done by the team. Serious concerns were raised about Thomas’s leniency, when the mere thought of pulling a stunt like that in his playing days would have been folly.

The other night, the Celtics destroyed Thomas’s Knicks, 104-59. Total annihilation. His team fell to 4-10 on the season.

Isiah Thomas has now been retired as a player for about as long as he was employed by the Pistons. Nothing much has gone right for him in Armani. Can’t blame this one on his height, though.