by Brian A. Wilkins
4/13/2008 (links and photos updated December 16, 2018)
Several of Isiah 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 was named President of Basketball Operations on December 22, 2003 and subsequently head coach on June 22, 2006 after Larry Brown was fired. Sheer incompetence of owner James Dolan has destroyed this 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. I used to miss several days of work with phony illnesses and deaths in the family in the 1990s so I could 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 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 Charles Dolan allowed his spoiled, drug-rehabbed, guitar-playing son, James, to start meddling in the MSG cookie jar. Charles gave James the keys to the MSG car in 2001. But that had a manual transmission, and James drove it like an automatic. Needless to say, the transmission didn’t last very long.
The Knicks were able to sustain a consistent level of play throughout the 1990s. That says a lot about the Dave Checketts/Ernie Grunfeld tandem that Kid Dolan eventually ran out of town, apparently thinking he could do better without them.
Two failed NBA Finals started the descent
The Knicks blew a 3-2 series lead in the 1994 NBA Finals against the Houston Rockets and Hakeem “best center I’ve ever seen” Olajuwon.” The Miami Heat took notice of how Knicks head coach Pat Riley was able to adapt to any set of circumstances. He went from Showtime offensive-machine coach, to a defensive-minded coach because of the different makeup of the Knicks and Lakers. When the Knicks lost ANOTHER heart-breaking series in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pacers in 1995, Riley lost confidence in the team.
The Heat, tampering or not, lured Riley away from the Knicks just a few days after the Rockets clinched their second straight title. Don Nelson took over as head coach of the Knicks for the 1996 season. Nelson was fired just 60 games into his tenure. Many believe Nelson was fired because Patrick Ewing didn’t like his philosophy; nor did most of the other Knicks players. Jeff Van Gundy took over and led the Knicks to a 13-9 finish and an Eastern Conference Semi-Finals demolition courtesy of Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
The team re-tooled in 1997, adding Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, and Chris Childs. The Knicks finished the regular season at 57-25, second in the Atlantic Division. John Starks won the Sixth Man of the Year award after graciously allowing Houston to move into the starting lineup at the two.
But the team blew a 3-1 lead vs. Riley’s Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semis. Of course this was after PJ Brown body-slammed Charlie Ward and the subsequent suspensions of virtually every Knicks starter for Games 5 and 6.
Ewing broke his wrist early in the 1998 season and the outlook was bleak from there. The team persevered and surprised everyone that season. They avenged their loss to the Heat the previous season as a number-7 seed in the 1st Round of the 1998 NBA Playoffs. New York lost to the Indiana Pacers in the semi-finals.
The unforgettable 1999 strike-shortened season came next. The Knicks clawed their way to the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Knicks, along with new acquisitions Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, became only the second team in NBA history to beat a #1 seed as a #8 seed in the playoffs, with that very dramatic victory over the Heat.
The Knicks made it all the way to the Finals. They of course lost to the Spurs 4-1 after their valiant efforts throughout the playoffs as the underdog. Nobody would blame the Knicks for losing to San Antonio. They were clearly outmanned just as they were in the previous three series that they won. But everything started changing from here.
Grunfeld and Checketts exit
There were many changes happening in the NBA from the mid-1990s to the turn of the millennium. The league progresively eliminated hand and forearm checks on defense, and essentially instituted college defenses (zones) by 2001. Man-to-man defense had been the Knicks, Pistons, Jazz, and other teams’ modus operandi for most of the 80s and 90s. That was all over now. Changes to the rules aside, the Knicks were also facing a lot of change internally.
A major power struggle boiled over between MSG President Checketts, team President Ernie Grunfeld, and head coach Jeff Van Gundy. Grunfeld was demoted to “consultant” with eight games left in the 1999 season when it looked like the Knicks would miss the playoffs. The feud between Van Gundy and Grunfeld centered on the latter trading the team’s heart and soul, Charles Oakley, for Marcus Camby. Grunfeld was fired completed on June 3, 1999 despite the team’s run to the Finals.
Dolan and Checketts thought it would be a good idea to hire Scott Layden as Executive VP and General Manager to replace Grunfeld. Layden basically got to where he was because of his dad’s work wih the Utah Jazz, just like Dolan. No sense in even wasting time talking about Layden. He made some of the dumbest trades in NBA history as he tried to acquire as many old, washed up, average Utah players as possible, i.e. Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley. The team was a complete disaster from 1999-2003 with Layden as GM. Of course Isiah Thomas took over this spot in December 2003.
Two years after the 1999 Cinderella Finals appearance, MSG President Dave Checketts resigned. Van Gundy resigned about seven months later, 19 games into the 2001-02 season. Both saw the direction the Knicks were headed with Kid Dolan and Layden calling all the shots. Since Van Gundy’s resignation, the Knicks have had five different head coaches.
First it was Layden’s personal choice, Don “Disaster” Chaney. Lenny “not my uncle” Wilkens came next. He actually led the Knicks to the playoffs, but of course they got swept by the Nets. Herb Williams was head coach for a few games. Larry Brown – the guy who likes to fake illnesses and collect large sums of money from Detroit and New York without actually working – came next. Brown of course was hired and subsequently fired by Isiah Thomas.
Isiah hates white players
Oh yeah, this column is about Thomas and his elitist, race-based decision-making. I almost forgot after “reminiscing” about the manure spill that has become the New York Knicks.
Thomas was given 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 and the aforementioned Anderson and Eisley) who Layden gave huge contracts. But that Zach Randolph trade was the last straw and the blatant 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 December 13 to February 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 Wilkens. Wilkens not only won his first game as Knicks coach versus the Seattle Supersonics – the team he coached to the 1979 NBA Championship – but went 9-5 in his first 14. He did this, 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 February 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 were making shots when set up in the offense. Mohammed and Tim Thomas did not have those same set-shot abilities and thus ruined the entire offense. Isiah just preferred average black players over average white players. The Knicks would make the playoffs that year, but were obviously overmatched and got swept by the Nets.
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 Lee (who is white), 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. I’m not even sure if he’s in the league anymore. But why bring in a “dumb-ass” (as one NBA staffer for the Mavericks called him), 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 traded 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 whiteboy “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. 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.
Isiah isn’t the only GM/President who pulls these preferential moves seemingly based on race. 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. If Bird and Walsh did this trade because of race, congratulations…you’re both as dumb as Isiah.
Knicks would be terrible regardless
Isiah Thomas was a great player and a decent broadcaster (ok that may be a stretch), but WAS a terrible general manager. But he shouldn’t feel bad about this. Other NBA greats like Michael Jordan (Washington), Elgin Baylor (until very recently; L.A. Clippers), and Kevin McHale (Minnesota) were/are also very bad personnel people.
Its just a matter of time before Walsh fires Thomas 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. It’s because professional sports are the only jobs on Earth where people are truly evaluated based SOLELY on their ability to do the job. Professional sports are the only jobs that people from all walks of life, who may not even speak the same languages, come together for a common goal and love their teammates like sisters and brothers.
It’s a beautiful sight watching the elation by winning teams. That raw emotion and family-feel is what makes college sports so great too. It’s awesome seeing all different races, ages, and classes of people celebrating, hugging, kissing, etc. because they ALL accomplished a goal they ALL set out for.
Society in general 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 whiteboy who runs “Corporate America X” and only hires other whiteboys 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.