Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Knicks Are Like the Dream Team

Insofar as Isiah Thomas is Not Allowed to Contact Them

Isiah Thomas knows all about the ol' freeze out. He's done the freezing and he's been frost bit before. As the story goes Isiah Thomas was the ring leader in the East locker room prior to the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. In this capacity he convinced his teammates, including Moses Malone, Larry Legend, Dr. J, Bernard King and the Chief, to keep the ball out of the hands of a rookie from the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan. Thomas's reason for this was that he felt like the young scorer was getting an inordinate amount of media attention for someone who hadn't paid his dues yet. You might have heard of this Jordan character. Well, apparently he was a bit of competitor and he didn't take kindly to being locked out of the offense. In fact, he held that grudge for decades.

When the IOC amended their rules so as to allow professional basketball players to participate in the 1992 Olympics the whole sporting world was aflutter with the possibilities. The NBA was in a golden era and the spots on the team were priceless. Chuck Daly was named the head coach of the squad and the roster was assembled. The starting center was Patrick Ewing (of course). The starting power forward was Karl Malone. The starting small forward was Charles Barkley. The starting shooting guard was Michael Jordan. And the starting point guard? It sure as hell wasn't Isiah Thomas. It was Magic Johnson. And the backup point guard? Isiah? Nope. It was John Stockton.

This time, as the tale is told, Michael Jordan was the one doing the freezing out. And Isiah was the one out in the cold. He was passed over by the United States men's national basketball team in spite of recently leading the Pistons to back-to-back titles in the years leading up to the Games. He was passed over in spite of the fact that he was undeniably one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game. He was passed over in spite of the fact that his own coach was calling the shots.

He missed out on one of the defining moments for a generation of ballers because he was so selfishly short-sighted in that 1985 All-Star Game. He missed out because his petty jealousy incited him to use his Napoleonic sway as PG in that game to try to take down a kid who had done nothing wrong other than score points as a rookie. And, don't get me wrong, I hate Michael Jordan as much as you can actually hate a professional athlete that you don't know. But, I'd take his side in this battle.

And, as usual, Jordan wins in this rivalry too. Yeah he only got off 9 shot attempts as a starter in his first All-Star Game appearance but he also led the most celebrated team possibly in the history of sport and participated in what could only have been some of the most dramatic high-stakes poker games in the history of gambling during those weeks in Spain.

So, Isiah must have felt a familiar feeling when new Knicks Team President Donnie Walsh informed him the other day that he was prohibited from making any contact with any players on the Knicks roster or coaches on the coaching staff. He must have had a little deja vu. Because he's been here before. He's been told to stay away from team's he felt, in one case rightly and in the other wrongly, that he should have been on. He knows what it's like to not be welcome. To be frozen out.

The karmic paybacks are just starting for Isiah Lord Thomas. He tried to hold down Jordan. Talk about your all-time backfires. He tried to run the Knicks for his own vanity rather than for the fans and for the players. He stubbornly insisted that he would never quit or change even if the circumstances seemed to beg either or both of those moves. And, now his bluff has been called. He has been stripped of his titles. He's likely had to give up all of his office space. He can't show up at the Garden unless he's coming to report to Walsh. He is barred from contact with anyone other Walsh. And his bold proclamations about never quitting, ever, will force him to be powerlessly present as his work is undone. His refusal to admit failure will allow him to be even further humiliated by Walsh who can now use him as an errand boy and doesn't seem shy about doing so, already mentioning that Isiah will be available to be sent to Europe if there is a prospect to be seen.

That example of the sort of task that Isiah could be assigned is particularly hilarious given the complete lack of European scouting that occurred under his stewardship. And, this is why I have no problem with the fact that Isiah hasn't been totally fired from the organization. In fact, I like this even better. He's been stripped of all power and now only has accountability, something that he never had before. Now he is Donnie Walsh's basketball concierge. That is a far more shameful fate than simply being fired. If he'd been fired he could have just left town. He could have potentially even moved on to another pursuit (probably not a NBA job) and distanced himself from the past few years of his life. That isn't an option now.

He's stuck, frozen in fact, by his refusal to quit. He's not allowed to talk to the players who he coached and hired because of how poorly he has been known to handle himself. Walsh doesn't want Isiah whispering poisoned somethings in the ears of Jamal Crawford or any other Knicks who may still foolishly trust him. He doesn't want him turning the Knicks locker room against whomever the new coach is in the same way that he turned that 1985 All-Star Game locker room against Jordan.

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