by Brian A. Wilkins
Several of Thomas’ moves on and off the court reek of anti-European American and European sentiment. But the Knicks were a sinking ship long before Thomas’ arrival. Sheer incompetence of owner James Dolan has destroyed once proud franchise that made the playoffs every season from 1988-2001.
This column must be prefaced, in a matter of full disclosure, with the fact I have been a New York Knicks fan since the mid-1980s and missed several days of work in the 1990s to watch playoff games. Though the Knicks have not won any championships since my self-admission into Knicks Nation, there at least used to be excitement and anticipation when myself and other Knicks fans got together to talk about them. But since 1999, the ship that was Madison Square Garden and home to the New York Knickerbockers (and a hockey team and a WNBA team…sorry not interested) hit the proverbial iceberg and has been on a slow descent to the bottom of the abyss ever since.
It was the 1999 season when the REAL Dolan, Charles, allowed his spoiled, drug-rehabbed, guitar-playing son, James, to begin putting his hands in the MSG cookie jar (more on that later). Then in 2001, Charles gave James the keys to the MSG car that had a manual transmission, but Sonny drove it like an automatic. Needless to say, the transmission didn’t last very long. The fact the Knicks were able to sustain a consistent level of play throughout the 1990s says a lot about the Dave Checketts/Ernie Grunfeld tandem that Kid Dolan eventually ran out of town (starting that year), apparently thinking he could do better without them.
It all started after the 1994 Finals runs when the Knicks blew a 3-2 lead to Hakeem “best-center-I’ve-ever-seen” Olajuwon,” and the Houston Rockets. The Heat noticed how Pat Riley was able to adapt to any set of circumstances, as he went from Showtime Lakers, offensive-machine coach to a defensive-minded one because of the talent he had to work with. After the Knicks lost ANOTHER heart-breaking series, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pacers in 1995, Riley lost confidence in the team.
The Miami Heat, tampering or not, lured Riley away from the Knicks just a few days after the Rockets clinched their second straight title and Don Nelson took over for the 1996 season. Just 60 games into his tenure, Nelson was fired mostly because Patrick Ewing didn’t like his philosophy (nor did most of the other Knicks). Jeff Van Gundy took over and led the Knicks to a 13-9 finish and an Eastern Conference Semis demolition courtesy of Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
The team re-tooled in 1997, adding Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, and Chris Childs, but blew a 3-1 lead vs. Riley’s Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semis after PJ Brown’s body slam of Charlie Ward and subsequent suspension by vitually every Knicks starter.
In 1998, Patrick Ewing broke his wrist early in the season and the outlook was bleak from there. The team persevered and surprised everyone, avenging their loss to the Heat the previous season, as a number-7 seed, in the 1st Round of the playoffs. New York would lose to Indiana in the Semis.
Then came the unforgettable 1999 strike-shortened season, when the #8 seeded Knicks, along with newly-acquired Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, made it all the way to the Finals and lost to the Spurs 4-1.
NBA TV: 1999 Knicks Season
But the damage had been done when Kid Dolan scapegoated Grunfeld by firing him (though the Knicks made it appear Checketts fired Grunfeld) before the playoff run and replaced him with the sorriest, most pathetic team president in NBA history, Scott Layden. This would be the beginning of the end for the Knicks.
Two years after the Finals appearance, both MSG President Dave Checketts and Van Gundy resigned, both seeing the direction the Knicks were headed (though Kid Dolan may have forced Checketts out). Since December of 2001 when Van Gundy resigned, the Knicks have had five different head coaches: first it was Layden’s personal choice, Don “Disaster” Chaney, then Lenny “not my uncle” Wilkens, who actually led the Knicks to the playoffs (they got swept by the Nets), then Herb Williams for a few games, then Larry “I like to fake illnesses and collect large sums of money from Detroit and New York without actually working” Brown; and now of course Isiah Thomas, who hired Brown for whatever reason.
Oh yeah, this column is about Thomas and his elitist, race-based decision-making…almost forgot after “reminiscing” about the manure spill that has become the New York Knicks. I gave Thomas the benefit of the doubt up until this season. He inherited one
of the worst salary-cap situations in NBA history from Layden, along with all those crap former Utah Jazz players (Felton Spencer, Shandan Anderson, Howard Eisley) Layden decided to give huge contracts too (Layden worked as Utah’s GM prior to coming to New York). But that Zach Randolph trade was the last straw and the second blatantly elitist move Thomas made in his General Manager career to illustrate his disdain for “white” players.
The first was during the 2003-04 season. The Knicks started the season 7-16 and looked as inept as ever. But they started showing signs of life after the rough start, going on a 17-win, 9-loss run from Dec. 13-Feb. 11, mostly on the strength of Stephon Marbury running the pick-and-roll to perfection with Michael Doleac and Keith Van Horn (yes, they are both “white.”) Head coach Don Chaney, understandably, was fired on January 15, 2004 and replaced by Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens not only won his first game as Knicks coach vs. the team he won a championship as a coach with (Seattle Supersonics), but went 9-5 in his first 14, again on the strength of Marbury, Doleac, and Van Horn. Granted, those guys aren’t GREAT players, but the Knicks were finally showing signs of being a TEAM again and those two fit into a system that appeared to be working.
But Isiah Thomas, citing the fact he wanted to run more and have a more “athletic” team (meaning he wants all “black” players) traded away Van Horn and Doleac for two career scrubs in Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed on Feb. 15. WHY? The team was playing well, they had reached the .500 mark (25-25), and Knicks Nation was starting to believe once again. Remember this franchise made it to the Finals as a number-8 seed in 1999. The Knicks would win their first game after the trade (and All-Star break), but then lost six straight, destroying any momentum they had built under Wilkens. Doleac and Van Horn are the same caliber players, as far as talent, as Mohammed and Tim Thomas…Isiah just wanted them to be average “black” players, not average “white” guys. The Knicks would make the playoffs that year, but were obviously overmatched, getting swept by New Jersey in the first round.
The current New York Knicks, to put it mildly, suck. There is absolutely no chemistry on the team and the players, except for Jamal Crawford and my favorite, DAVID “WHITE GUY” LEE, are the only ones worth keeping (maybe Renaldo Balkman too). Isiah used a 2005 first round pick on Lee, so you would think he wanted him as a cornerstone of the team’s future. Granted trading away Steve Francis in the Randolph deal was a good move (is he in the league anymore?), but why bring in a “dumb-ass,” (as one NBA staffer referred to him as) life-long criminal like Randolph? Not only does he have zero leadership skills on or off the court, but he plays the same position the Knicks best player, Lee, plays. It’s as if Isiah does not want to make David Lee a star, so he trades for a “Jail Blazer” to cut directly into Lee’s minutes, stats, and subsequent popularity. The move also made no sense because Randolph and Eddy Curry (another “brilliant” acquisition by Isiah) play the same sort of low-post, back to the basket game, which any basketball novice could have predicted would cause problems.
If Isiah Thomas wants to play these white-boy “racist” games, then he needs to get a job at some corporate bank or some other large corporation where that sort of crap is acceptable and rampant. I immediately believed the move to trade Doleac and Van Horn had elitist undertones, but the Randolph acquisition sealed it as fact. Randolph is a punk with decent skills, while Lee is a hustling, rebounding, BASKETBALL-PLAYING machine that any other team would play 35-40 minutes per game.
But Isiah isn’t the only GM/President who pulls these preferential moves. Ironically, the Knicks NEW President, Donnie Walsh, along with Larry Bird, for some reason traded away Al Harrington and Steven Jackson (who’s had his off-court issues) to Golden State for a decent rebounder in Troy Murphy and another underachieving Duke Blue Devil (see Jay Williams, J.J. Reddick, and Sheldon Williams) in Mike Dunleavy, Jr. G-State has become one of the most exciting teams in the NBA since the trade, while Indiana is now just a few steps above New York.
Isiah Thomas was a great player and a decent broadcaster (ok, that may be a stretch), but WAS a terrible general manager; just like other NBA greats Michael Jordan (Washington), Elgin Baylor (until very recently; L.A. Clippers), and Kevin McHale (Minnesota). Its just a matter of time before Walsh fires him and names a new coach. But its sad that Isiah will also go down as the second coming of Marge Schott in the world of sports management. I love sports not for the glitz, glamour, and money, but because sports are the only entities on Earth where people are evaluated based SOLELY on their ability to do the job. Sports, and the military, are the only places people from all walks of life come together for a common goal and love their teammates like sisters and brothers.
It’s a beautiful sight watching the elation by teams, especially at the college level, seeing all different races of people celebrating, hugging, kissing, etc. because they ALL accomplished a goal they ALL set out for. Society in gene
ral needs to take a page from the world of sports so I can love it just as much. Isiah Thomas is no better than some rich white boy who runs “Corporate America X” company who only hires other white boys and blonde chicks to work for him, even though someone else who may not look like him can do the job better. Isiah, dumb-ass Dolan, Steve Mills and their “blacks only” circus they have turned the Knicks into should take their show to Bootyville, Alabama where it is acceptable.
by Brian A. Wilkins