In Part II I made a case for how the Anucha Brown Sauders verdict (as well as the handling of Don Chaney’s dismissal) illustrates a fatal flaw–contempt–in Thomas’ decision making style. My point is simply that contempt (a callous disregard for others) is not simply unethical behavior; rather, it is also strongly associated with specific types of poor decisions that continue to haunt this team.
Contempt diminishes the ability to recognize mistakes and learn from them. In moments of complete and total privacy I often wonder if Isiah Thomas recognizes his role in the various messes he’s made. I am not convinced he does, though I suppose only he knows for sure. When Don Chaney said he felt disrespected by the way his situation was handled, Isiah responded that he didn’t think it was appropriate to give Chaney “a 24-hour status update on what was going on.” Of Anucha Brown Saunders, he says, “She made the whole thing up. The jury didn’t listen to the evidence.” Of upper management/ownership in his prior NBA stops in Indiana and Toronto, and in his brief stint with the CBA, Thomas claims they were all just out to get him. Apparently, the international conspiracy dedicated to his downfall continues on unabated to this very day.
The great thing about being contemptuous is always being able to believe that your failures are someone else’s doing–leaving you free to repeat the mistakes you made. So, in Thomas’ mind’s eye the problem is that the players haven’t gelled or that they have underperformed. It’s never that his strategy of stockpiling redundant talent is a limited strategy. Winning the East is a simple matter of landing the right star player. Enter Marbury. Tim Thomas. Crawford. Curry. Steve Francis. Now, Zach Randolph. Without knocking Zebo, who I like, his deal was just more of what Thomas has always done. There’s been no real introspection about the overall approach. He simply doesn’t see a downside.
Contempt breeds an exaggerated need for secrecy and loyalty. If you believed your failures were never of your own making imagine the twisted logic you would need to sustain that kind of fantasy. Real world common sense and people who just won’t play along would constantly threaten this fantasy world with collapsing under its own weight. The Thomases and Dolans of the world, who are contemptuous of others, don’t leave their fantasy world vulnerable to common sense or to people who don’t play along. Instead they prefer to surround themselves with loyalists who enable their fantasies, closing themselves off to “outsiders” as much as possible. Not surprisingly, this behavior suggests intolerance for self-examination, competing approaches, fresh ideas, or honest criticism.
Nowhere has this intolerance been more perfectly exemplified than through the organization’s relationship with Stephon Marbury. If the Brown Saunders verdict has done nothing else it has established beyond any reasonable doubt Thomas’ coddling and enabling of Marbury. Thomas has demanded nothing of Marbury since his arrival, despite making him the face of the franchise. Further, Isiah has sought to punish anyone in the organization or move any player or coach who would dare challenge Marbury to lead. Larry Brown’s no saint. He has his own dysfunctions, which not coincidentally include an exaggerated need for loyalty. But that whole drama is far uglier now in retrospect than it was even at the time.
Where to from here? One reader in the comments on Part II wrote:
How about the fact that the NBA will discipline you for punching someone, but not for sexual harassment?
That’s sticky, because the NBA is a collection of businesses that agree to cooperate on certain aspects of business but leave others to each individual franchise. Since sexual harassment is a civil legal matter I could certainly see the league not wishing to wade in such murky water. If Stern punishes the Knicks it means the league is claiming jurisdiction in that area. That potentially makes the NBA liable to be named a party in the next lawsuit alongside any team. Further, it’s not clear to me that any league punishment (a fine in all likelihood) would be any more of a deterrent than a civil trial. However, the question remains, what will the Knicks do in the aftermath of this case? Given that Dolan and Thomas didn’t have sense enough to keep this case out of court in the first place, and apparently have enough money to throw at appeals, it’s safe to speculate that they probably haven’t learned much.
I imagine that the best the Knicks fans–and I continue to count myself among them–can hope for in the immediate future is a rift between Dolan and Thomas that leads to his dismissal. The problem of course is that Dolan has all the same problems Thomas has. There is little reason to believe he wouldn’t hire another Thomas.