$11.6M Part II: What This Means for the Franchise

As you no doubt are aware, a jury has sided with former Knicks executive Anucha Brown Saunders and found the New York Knickerbockers and the Madison Square Garden organization guilty of sexual harassment (perpetrated primarily by Knicks team president Isiah Thomas). The Knicks and MSG were also held liable for creating a hostile work environment and for retaliating against Mrs. Brown Saunders when she protested her treatment. The jury of four women and three men awarded Mrs. Brown Saunders $11.6 million in damages, with a further award for back and present pay (for wrongful termination) pending. The jury declared a mistrial on Thomas’ personal culpability and thus did not subject him to punitive damages. Also, early indications are that Thomas will face no further discipline from the league. Though the case uncovers aspects of the MSG environment that are utterly distasteful, which include repeated reprimands of Thomas’ behavior by MSG officials, the judgment is unlikely by itself to directly impact the team’s on court performance this upcoming season.

In discussing the case I want to pick up where Knickerblogger left off yesterday. Like him, I also couldn’t bear to watch. I went out of my way to ignore details of the case as best I could until a verdict was reached. Now that a verdict has been reached I want to show how the case is directly relevant to everyday die-hard Knicks fans. So, even while acknowledging that this is unlikely to have any direct impact on team performance in 07-08 it is still quite meaningful. This case, along with the Don Chaney’s firing, illustrate with crystal clarity the fundamental problem that plagues the Dolan/Thomas regime. I will limit my comments mostly to Thomas but you could practically substitute Dolan’s name into every sentence.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, it is worth stating a basic premise. Isiah Thomas has a problem making good decisions. His worst decisions, which I won’t take the time to recount, have become the stuff of legend. And even his better decisions come with a string of “yeah, but” clauses attached (e.g., “Thomas stole Trevor Ariza in the draft. Yeah, but then he traded him–a young, cheap, solid wing defender–in order to pair Steve Francis with Stephon Marbury.”). Isiah, sometimes in spite of himself, is an intelligent guy. So, what gives? Why such poor decisions. I won’t make you guess. I’ll cut to the chase. In a nutshell, Isiah Thomas’ poor decisions are a natural consequence of his remarkable contempt for other people. (Contempt in this context means an acute lack of respect for others and a callous disregard for their perspective.) In a leader, this is a character flaw so grave it renders good decision making practically impossible.

Now to be clear, I have little interest in doing any sort of long distance psychoanalysis of Isiah Thomas. I do not profess to know why Thomas is contemptuous of others. That’s not the point of this entry. Rather, I am interested in showing how Isiah’s words and actions indicate his contempt for others–and how that contempt hinders his ability to lead. To do that, I first need to briefly describe the two cases.

Firing Chaney on Letterman. At the time Don Chaney was dismissed it is safe to say he had it coming. The NBA is a tough, results-oriented business and the results were awful. Additionally, Chaney had few supporters among the media or the Knick faithful, and it certainly appeared that the players had tuned him out. The “FI-YER CHAY-NEE!” chants had become an unfortunate nightly serenade for a man universally regarded as one of the game’s true gentleman. Of course, the “Chaney watch” began in earnest once Thomas rode into town on his trusty white steed with promises to make the Knicks younger, more athletic, and more importantly, relevant again. Thomas appeared on David Letterman’s Late Show and made his now infamous pregnant pause following Letterman’s speculation that Chaney would be fired. Chaney was of course fired soon thereafter.

The true measure of contempt is, how do you treat others when they have nothing you want or when you think they cannot effectively retaliate? Do you treat them with respect or callous disregard? Do you change how you treat others depending on whether you think people who really matter are watching? I have no reason to believe Thomas especially disliked Chaney or had any particular ax to grind with him. I just don’t think Thomas cared enough to pass on a chance to laugh at Chaney’s expense. After all, what could Chaney–who was for all practical purposes dead man walking–do? It was painfully obvious he was going to be fired. So, given a chance to be magnanimous–with the cameras rolling no less–Thomas chose callous disregard. He had nothing to gain apart from a few chuckles on the Late Show. I recall saying to a friend the next day, “I don’t know how Isiah’s going to work out in New York but I can tell you that it’s going to end ugly for him. He really is an asshole. Guys like that can never stay out of their own way.”

Who You Callin’ A Bitch!? The Brown Sauders Case. The case time line published in the Daily News hits many of the low-lights of the case, so I won’t recount them all. Despite his protestations of innocence, Thomas had been reprimanded by Steve Mills for his behavior towards Brown Saunders (and for related behavior as far back as 2004). At root, Thomas showed the same callous disregard towards Brown Sauders he exhibited towards the outgoing Chaney; just in a different context stretched out over a longer period of time. His claims about who can call black women “bitches” without being offensive is a prime example of this disregard. Aside from expressing the most idiotic racial and gender politics since X-Clan, Isiah clearly ignored or forgot these words from the Queen.

Maybe none of this talk of contempt explains Thomas’ inability to manage a salary cap or make a trade that isn’t redundant. Perhaps. But I don’t think so. I think the behavior in the MSG offices makes its way onto the bench and into management decisions. In the last part I’ll try to make a case for how this happens. I’ll talk about precisely how contempt for others can often lead to particular types of poor decisions.

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Part-time blogger on the Knicks at Knickerblogger.net and Seahawks at FieldGulls.com. In my free time I hang out at the University of South Carolina and occasionally fill thirsty young minds with knowledge about various and sundry things related to consumer behavior and marketing.

20 thoughts to “$11.6M Part II: What This Means for the Franchise”

  1. Fire his ass! In any other company he would be fired. I can`t be a Knicks fan now. Where are the professionals?

  2. This is why this blog sucks cause you continue to focus on nonsense like this, get back to basketball and stop whining

  3. Didn’t he end this post by saying that he would address how this affects basketball in the third installment?
    Clearly, Isiah has issues. His professional history post-playing, is less than unremarkable, it’s a bit offensive. Not only have his products proved to be underwhelming, his topped the sundae with a healthy dose of derision and outright contempt for seemingly everybody around him.. …save a few players that have done nobody any favors. Don’t the issues that arise from this have the potential to derail the season? They certainly will be a black cloud above it. ….it’s another “..yeah, but..”.

  4. This is why this blog sucks cause you continue to focus on nonsense like this, get back to basketball and stop whining

    I love this bit, after we were getting complaints for weeks that we WEREN’T doing entries on the trial. :)

  5. “This is why this blog sucks…”

    Why would you continually go to a web page that you think sucks? It reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Lisa is in the second best band with Art Garfunkel and John Oates and their hit song is “born to runner-up.” The crowd boos them, and Lisa says “wait a second, why would they come to our concert to boo us?”

  6. brian- it’s even better than that… I think NYKat should ask for his money back from his subscription to this sit

  7. How about the fact that the NBA will discipline you for punching someone, but not for sexual harrassment? I’m not really sure how I feel about it.

    “This is why this blog sucks cause you continue to focus on nonsense like this, get back to basketball and stop whining”

    It seems that Isiah’s management skills, or complete lack there of, have a lot to do with the state of New York Knicks’ basketball.

    A lot of people seem to be saying “I don’t care this doesn’t effect my view of the Knicks at all.” I don’t totally disagree. They’re still my team, but I can’t help but feel like a battered wife (a bit ironic).

    Maybe it’s not fair, but if the Knicks were winning 50 games and making deep playoff runs I wouldn’t care nearly as much about Isiah’s treatment of women. Because the Knicks are in the lottery with a completely unbalanced roster despite outspending every team in the league; however, I have to consider the possibility that this unethical and unprofessional behavior has something to do with Isiah’s job perfomance.

    If you can love your country and hate your President, I don’t see why the same can’t be true for your basketball team.

  8. Wearing baggy pants = fine of thousands of dollars

    Calling employees demeaning and vulgar names over the course of years = nada

  9. Lol, Ted Nelson, once again my facorite poster, love that:

    “If you can love your country and hate your President, I don?t see why the same can?t be true for your basketball team.”

  10. I think isiah’s doin a great job and even if I didn’t think so I still wouldn’t care (he can pay me a 1/4 mil a year just to call me a black bitch, shit I’ll ride in the marb mobile for that. I get treated like shit for 8.50 and I don’t complain about it that’s professionalism). I mean if we made the play offs this year would this be ok if so your kinda a cheap whore. I’d just like to apologize in advance for everything I just said but this whole thing is stupid.

  11. A he said she said case, i’m all for women’s rights but this case was so lame. Let’s go isiah lead us to an exciting season baby!

  12. “…Because the Knicks are in the lottery”.. …correction, because the Knicks qualified for the lottery (and gave the pick away). Right now, unfortunately, talking about Knicks basketball IS talking about Isiah. Like everybody has said, if this was a 50-win team, the talk would be about that. Because it has fallen short of that, the talk has to turn to why they are not there. For all intents and purposes, that talk centers around Isiah.
    I think the most troubling aspect of all of this is that there is now a question as to how much focus the Knicks personnel are dedicating to issues that will affect the on-court product. I mean, sending cheerleaders to the refs locker room is alarming. And I’m not even talking about employee rights. In basketball terms, wouldn’t you rather your coach focus on schemes, personnel, plays, game management, etc.?
    For me, the question is how much of these extra-curricular activities take away from being the best Knicks basketball team possible.

  13. All you guys do is complain every team goes through the same process. Look at chicago they had 6 losing season before making the playoffs.

  14. Ted:
    You can love you country.
    But you don’t go out and vote for the president you hate because you love you country.

    In essence, however, every ticket you buy, every concession you buy, every time you turn on the TV to watch the Knicks, you’re voting for Isiah and Dolan.
    The franchise you love is a business, and your relationship with it is a customer/merchant one.
    So, you analogy is flawed.

    Not trying to be righteous; I’m very conflicted about the Knicks and their current leadership. I have followed them all my life (I’m 43), and I’m not sure how to behave.
    The intellectually honest answer, however, is that if you support this franchise – and that would be supporting the team – then you are affirming the behavior of the executives and coach of the franchise…
    To say they are not linked is to have your head in the sand.
    It feels as though people in this country have been very willing have it both ways…until somehow it affects them directly in some way.

    I think it reflects badly on those of us who feel people should be treated fairly and equally, whether you are a woman, a man and – and it’s interesting on this board because it comes up a lot – or whatever your racial background is.

    How is racial inequality different than gender inequality?

    “It should just be about basketball.”
    I guess that was what some folks were saying when the Dodgers first signed Jackie Robinson. Some folks didn’t want to have to deal with racial inequality. They wanted to talk about baseball.
    It has been very tough for women to become high level executives in the incredibly lucrative athletics business. Sports still are clearly slanted toward male favoritism.
    I’m not saying Anucha is like Robinson, but her stand was pretty darn brave, and maybe the right thing to do is to boycott the Knicks until they realize that the people that committed these wrongs in the eyes of their peers are no longer acceptable.
    Especially because they seem utterly unwilling to face what a jury found resoundingly to be the case. Clearly, they are not remorseful, and, too, makes me angry.

  15. There seems to be one line of thought (among several) on this blog – that if the Knicks were winning 50 games per year and winning playoff series, that IT’s abusive and contemptuous actions would not be so important, that Knicks fans wouldn’t care as much.

    But that hasn’t happened, has it? And what David is attempting to explain above is that this very behaviour may be one of the causes of these lottery-bound teams that aren’t actually picking in the lottery.

    Isaiah has contempt for John Paxson. You guys all know it. Thomas owned Paxson on the court, so it’s perfectly understandable why Thomas thinks he is better and smarter and a better judge of talent than John Paxson. And that’s why the Bulls have Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah while the Knicks have Eddy Curry and Wilson Chandler. We don’t know how these players will turn out, but Isaiah obviously paid a higher price than he had to because there were no other bidders at the time. Because Isaiah knows he’s smarter than everyone else, it just didn’t matter.

    The Knicks are a rotten organization, and it comes straight from the top. I only feel sorry for Knicks fans – those who care enough to stay away and not financially support such a rotten organization. Those who continue to go to games and fund this madness deserve what they get.

  16. im rly pissed at the knicks. personally we were startin to look a little up. we went from 23 wins to 33 wins. thats pretty good. we hav some of the leagues best young talent, and now iseah screws us.

  17. The waiter rule. IT and Dolan are perfect examples of the waiter rule.

    “…it seems to be one of those rare laws of the land that every CEO learns on the way up. It’s hard to get a dozen CEOs to agree about anything, but all interviewed agree with the Waiter Rule.”

    “Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with,” Swanson writes. “Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.”

    It never fails me — someone who is rude to a waiter, maid, landscaper, secretary, etc. will be a poor leader. 100% of the time.

  18. I was covering the case for my college paper and just sitting in the court room and hearing all the testimony, I never thought they’d get a dime from Thomas, but the Knicks basically let Marbury do whatever he wanted, thus setting up a hostile work environment.

    If the janitor at MSG wanted, he could have filed a sexual harassment case, that’s how bad it was.


    I just launched a Nets Blog a few weeks ago http://www.netsnotes.com/ ,care to trade links? I really dig your site, come and check mine out if you get a chance!

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