Weeds in the Garden

Adrian Wojnarowski
The Vertical

Finally, the New York Knicks are collapsing under the lightweights of a Richie Rich owner, empty suit executives and the vicious spin doctors who have run roughshod over Madison Square Garden for too long.

Together, they created the culture that allowed Isiah Thomas to behave behind the scenes like his old college coach, Bob Knight. The jury in New York federal court must have sat there in stunned silence, listening to the testimony of these jokers who dragged Anucha Browne Sanders, the NBA and common decency through a back alley.

As the jury watched one Garden official after another trash a well-decorated, well-compensated employee, they could see for themselves what everyone understood about this dysfunctional, failed organization: Beyond its basketball futility, the Knicks organization is an out of control embarrassment that needs to be punched in the mouth.

These jurors did basketball, did the NBA, a public service.

The Knicks and Thomas lost the case, which isn’t surprising because they lose everything. In the recent past, they wrote tens of millions of dollars in checks to make a long list of underperforming, overpaid players and coaches go away. That’s the way of Daddy Boy Jim Dolan’s Cablevision empire, just throwing money at problems to get them out of the Garden’s path.

Browne Sanders would’ve been the biggest bargain in franchise history. She wouldn’t go away. She wouldn’t back down, the way everyone does to Thomas and the Garden. She stayed, she fought and she’s going to walk away with millions in damages and perhaps part of her good name again.

For speaking up about sexual harassment at the Garden, she ended up with a job at the University of Buffalo. She paid a price. Browne Sanders deserves this, all the way. Whatever she gets paid, she lost a fast-track career in the pros.

There’s a passive-aggressive way to how Thomas bullies people – that charming, radiant smile that turns into something far different behind closed doors, where for too long his motives have forever left people distrustful, even fearful, of him. Between his professional competency and his workplace behavior, it says so much about the Knicks that they’re still the one franchise in basketball that would even employ him to scout Siberia – never mind run and coach the Knicks.

As much as anything, this jury in New York federal court that found him liable for sexual harassment of Browne Sanders on Tuesday makes sure that he’ll never pollute the professional basketball workplace again once the Garden finally disposes of him.

“I am very innocent,” Thomas said outside the courthouse on Tuesday, but the jury studied the testimony of the case and found Thomas and his co-conspirators on the character assassination of Browne-Sanders impossible to believe. Thomas found out that the corporate world isn’t Bob Knight’s classroom at Indiana, or the play land of the NBA locker room. You don’t get to talk about a woman that way, and you sure don’t get to talk to them that way.

Everyone needs NBA commissioner David Stern to remind them of that today. The league’s constitution gives Stern considerable powers to mete out a punishment of fines and suspensions to Dolan and his cast of clowns, but because it’s a civil, not a criminal trial, several sources familiar with the commissioner’s intentions don’t believe he’ll offer much more than a public rebuke of disappointment.

America already knows now: Between sexually harassing bosses, and star players treating young interns as sexual spoils of the job, you wouldn’t wish your worst enemy’s daughter to be trapped working there. “The Garden of Evil,” an ex-employee calls it. “They’ll take your soul away if you let them.”

Don’t suspend Thomas. That would be too easy. The better punishment for Thomas would be to make him stand in the Garden and face those fans that Browne Sanders said he trashed in meetings.

Make him stand there and lord over another lottery season with the highest payroll in the sport.

Make him coach a point guard, Stephon Marbury, who behaves like he belongs in Bellevue.

This is Thomas’ last job in basketball, last job of relevance anyway, and let it play out to the scorn of a fed-up New York. Under the weight of all this greed and hubris, a morally bankrupt franchise, and its face, collapsed in Manhattan. All together, the Knicks and Isiah Thomas had it coming.