TrueHoop: Isiah Thomas
The series was highlighted by Parker’s career-high 18 assists in Game 2 and then in the series-clinching Game 4 Parker was 15-21 (71.4 percent) for 37 points to advance the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA Finals.
Parker has two games in the last five postseasons of at least 35 points and 70 percent shooting, and is the only point guard to have two of those games during that span.
Parker has led his team to the NBA Finals for the fourth time in his career. With his consistent success in the regular season, and especially in the postseason, you can make the case that he’s the best point guard in the NBA.
Since Parker made his NBA debut in 2001-02, he’s won three NBA championships and was named Finals MVP in 2006-07. Since 1990, Isiah Thomas, Chauncey Billups and Parker are the only point guards to win the Finals MVP.
Parker has also led the Spurs in scoring and assists for three consecutive seasons and five of the last eight seasons.
What's more, Parker has won 70 percent of the games he’s played in, including the playoffs, the best winning percentage among point guards during that span.
Scoring with the Best
Parker was tied with Chris Paul and Stephen Curry among point guards with 1.03 points per play (PPP) this season. What separated him was that he scored on 50.4 percent of his plays, which ranked him third behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant among perimeter players.
• Parker led the NBA in scoring off pick and rolls this season, with an average of 8.5 points per game.
• On pick and rolls which included Parker’s passes, he averaged 1.03 points per play, which ranked him third this season behind Paul and James.
• Parker led all NBA point guards this season with a 10.1 points per game average in the paint.
• In the Western Conference Finals, Parker drove to the basket 61 times in the half court and created 76 points for the Spurs. Parker had 17 assists when driving to the basket, and his teammates were 17-31 (54.8 percent) on those plays, including 9-16 (56.3 percent) on 3-point field goals.
The Spurs outscore their opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions when Parker is on the court but that drops to 2.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s off. That difference of 8.5 points per 100 possessions was more than Paul, Curry, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams this season.
ESPN Stats & Information
Holiday, who will lead the Philadelphia 76ers into their division matchup with the Boston Celtics on Friday (ESPN, 7 ET) is averaging career highs in points per game (18.2), assists per game (9.3) and player efficiency rating (18.5) this season.
If he keeps up this pace of 18 points and nine assists per game, he would be one of four players since 2000 to have those averages along with Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Deron Williams.
Even though Holiday is leading the NBA in turnovers with more than four per game, the 76ers as a team have the second-lowest turnover percentage (12.6). With a career-high usage rate percentage of 26, the turnovers are expected to be high. At his current averages, Holiday would join Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas (1986-87) and Magic Johnson (1988-89) as the only players with 18 points, nine assists and four turnovers per game for a season.
No team is dependent on one player to create their offense as much as the 76ers are on Holiday. He has been responsible for 43 percent of his team’s total points this season, which leads the NBA. The “points responsible for” statistic includes offense generated from assists and points scored.
Holiday also leads the NBA in efficiency on isolation plays with a points-per-play average of 1.17 (minimum 30 plays), up from .89 last season.
Holiday is creating high-percentage opportunities for himself and his teammates. Last season he had a 47 effective field goal percentage (gives extra weight to 3-pointers) on isolation plays. This season he’s at 59 percent.
The pick-and-roll is a big part of every point guard’s repertoire to go along with isolations. Holiday is no different, as 59 percent of his offense either comes from the pick-and-roll or isolations, compared to last season when 46 percent of his offense came from those plays.
With high usage rate in those play types Holiday has made drastic improvement in his shooting percentage from 42 percent last season to 46 this season on pick-and-rolls and isolations.
The 76ers are 10-8 without a single former All-Star active on their roster. Key offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum is still not healthy enough to suit up. However, Holiday almost singlehandedly has kept the 76ers in the playoff hunt.
It will be interesting to see how Holiday fares with a national audience against a superstar point guard, Rajon Rondo, who is also top five in points responsible for and leads the league in assists at nearly 13 per game.
It was a historic Friday night for Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. With 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 24 assists, Rondo posted his fifth career triple-double and the first triple-double of the 2010-11 NBA season. Obviously, those numbers jump out of the box score. So let's dig into some of the history:
• The 24 assists represent the second-highest single-game total in Celtics history. The record belongs to Bob Cousy (28 against the Minneapolis Lakers on Febuary 27, 1959).
• Rondo is the second player to dish out 24 assists against the New York Knicks. The other was Guy Rodgers on December 21, 1966. The only player to ever drop more dimes against the Knicks was John Stockton (27 on Dec. 19, 1989).
• So we've established that 24 assists is a lot under any circumstances. How about 24 assists in a triple-double? According to our friends at Elias, only one other player in NBA history ever had at least 24 assists in a triple-double. On February 7, 1985, Isiah Thomas also had 24 assists in a triple-double in a 2-OT game against the Washington Bullets.
• Lest we forget, Rondo put up 17 and nine assists in the first two games of the season, respectively. Elias tells us that his total of 50 assists through the first three games of the season ties John Stockton's NBA record.
While Rondo's performance stole the statistical spotlight on Friday, let's check out some other notes from a busy night around The Association:
• Jeff Green hit the game-winner for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their win at the Detroit Pistons, but it was Kevin Durant's 30 points that led the way. Dating back to last season, he has scored at least 30 points in nine straight regular-season games. That's the longest such streak in the NBA since LeBron James' 10-game streak in the 2005-06 season.
• The New Jersey Nets knocked off the Sacramento Kings to improve to 2-0. Research from the Elias Sports Bureau indicates that the Nets are the 4th team in NBA history to start 2-0 one season after finishing a full NBA season with fewer than 20 wins. The last team to do this was the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets. That Rockets team went 37-45 and made the playoffs led by a rookie named Elvin Hayes.
• The Miami Heat rolled the Orlando Magic thanks to some suffocating defense. The Magic mustered just 70 points, which is their fewest in a game since December 2, 2005 (69 vs Grizzlies). Only 25 of those points came after halftime (four points more than the franchise-record for scoring futility in a half). The Magic's five assists set a record for fewest assists in a game in franchise history. Furthermore, the Magic's total of 21 field goals made is tied for the fewest in a single game in franchise history. Orlando hit just seven field goals in the second half. The only other time the Magic hit so few field goals in a half was on November 9, 1991 against the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
• LeBron James scored 15 points for the Heat one game after posting 16 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. It's the first time James has scored fewer than 20 points in back-to-back regular-season games since 2007-08.
• Chris Bosh shot just 2-for-9 from the field for the Heat, but perhaps was more important than his numbers indicated. In the past two games, the Miami Heat are +52 with him on the floor. Without Bosh on the floor, the Heat are -16.
• Dirk Nowitzki entered Friday with 80 consecutive made free throws. He hit his first two against the Grizzlies but then missed his third. Nowitzki's streak of 82 consecutive free throws made is the third-longest streak in NBA history. Micheal Williams owns the record with 97 straight during the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons.
• Human-rebounding machine Reggie Evans posted just two points to go along with his 14 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the season opener, Evans had no points and 16 rebounds. He's the third player in NBA history to grab at least 30 rebounds while scoring 10 or fewer points in the first two games of the season (joining Sam Lacey and Wes Unseld), according to Elias.
• Blake Griffin went for 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Clippers loss to the Warriors. The rookie has now started his career with consecutive double-doubles. According to Elias, he is the sixth player to debut since 1990 to post double-doubles in each of his first two career games. Coincidentally, the last player to do this was also a Clipper (albeit a more obscure one): James Singleton in 2005-06. The other players on this list are Emeka Okafor, Damon Stoudamire, Shaquille O'Neal, and Dikembe Mutombo.
- Remember the possession that ensued following Ray Allen's missed 3-pointer from the left corner with the Celtics trailing by four and just under a minute left remaining in the game? Steve Weinman of D-League Digest: "One one-thousand. Two one-thousand. Three one-thousand. Four one-thousand. Five one-thousand. In the time it takes you to read that last line, Fisher, the oldest man on the court, jogs the ball out past halfcourt, realizes only Kevin Garnett is even close to getting back defensively and that no one is under the rim, accelerates into a full sprint, beats everyone to the basket, lays the ball in with his left hand, absorbs purposeless contact from at least one (Glen Davis) of three late-arriving Celtics and draws a foul … There is no excuse for not getting back down the floor on and playing balls-to-the-wall defense for that possession. If the Lakers score, fine. A bunch of their players are really terrific offensive players. But make them earn the basket and the win there."
- Slate's Alan Siegel is the latest to examine Kobe Bryant's clutch stats.
- Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie caught an early turning point in the Lakers' favorite that blunted the Celtics' jackrabbit start: "After Boston leapt out to a 6-0 lead, and after a couple of nasty offensive possessions for the Lakers, Bryant made a point to bring up the ball himself, and made a hand signal in the backcourt for the Lakers to run a sideline triangle set. Suddenly, the Lakers were spaced properly, and the ball was moving. Andrew Bynum missed the resulting short shot, but with the C's suddenly having to cover larger areas of ground, Ron Artest was able to sneak in and grab an offensive rebound and put it in for two. Storm weathered, run over, Lakers back."
- Sebastian Pruiti takes a look at what gummed up Boston's offense through long stretches of the second half.
- More big overnight ratings for this year's Finals.
- A must-read from Tom Haberstroh, as he takes a final tally of the Isiah Thomas era in New York: "In all, Isiah Thomas effectively lit $50.6 million on fire by paying Jerome Williams, Maurice Taylor, Dan Dickau and Stephon Marbury for seasons in which they did not play for the Knicks. While it's true that the Knicks may have been better off without them, $50 million is expensive kindling. By comparison, the Oklahoma City Thunder leveraged a similar sum of money into a playoff appearance and a near-dethroning of the defending champion Lakers this postseason."
- What kind of offense will new Hornets head coach Monty Williams install in New Orleans? In interviews, Williams pledges a more up-tempo offense, but then offers a series of disclaimers. Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "[Williams] wants Paul and Collison be creative in the open court, but then immediately says the team needs to add structure to create better spacing and take advantage of the double teams Paul and West command. These aren't the words of a guy who just wants to run, run, run." This is an important distinction. At first blush, why wouldn't a team with Chris Paul manning the offense not want to get out and run as much as possible? Transition offense is a useful tool to have in the shed but, as Schwan points out, few teams have both a point guard and a big man who both demand double-teams, and that's a dynamic that can be best maximized in the half court.
- Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball takes a smart, thorough look at J.J. Redick's 2009-10 body of work on both ends of the floor.
- Os Davis of Ball in Europe gives you 10 reasons to watch the ACB (Spanish League) Finals between Regal FC Barcelona and Caja Laboral. Ricky Rubio and Tiago Splitter make the list.
- A video chronicle of Kevin Durant's tour of China.
- Did you happen to catch a glimpse of Stephen Strasburg's major league debut before the Celtics-Lakers Game 3? Strasburg's knee-buckling, 12-inch breaking ball was mesmerizing -- for fans, the opposition, his catcher and the home plate umpire. Strasburg's performance got me thinking ... Who's his NBA comp? Post your suggestion in the comments below! Count Greg Monroe among Strasburg's fans.
- The Kings' Jason Thompson will dabble in Bikram Yoga today. And Sean May has a case of the ... Wednesdays?
Are you better off keeping your second banana than trading for more talent? Can Kirk Hinrich accept playing second fiddle to Derrick Rose? How will Shawn Marion's 2008-09 second act in Toronto fare? Seconds for everyone at the TrueHoop Network.
M. Haubs of The Painted Area: "In addition to this kind of 'little-picture' unselfishness, it's crucial to keep 'big-picture' unselfishness in mind when building an NBA team as well, the delicate balance of getting guys to accept a team's pecking order.
Our favorite example of this, which we've written about before, is how the Pistons were considering trading Joe Dumars prior to their championship run, possibly for more talent, but owner Bill Davidson persuasively argued against by saying something to the effect of 'You'll never find a better player who's willing to sit second chair to Isiah.'
It's what we see now in L.A. with Lamar Odom accepting a bench role in a free-agent year. It's what we've seen for years in S.A. with Manu Ginobili accepting fewer minutes even though it keeps his stats low and probably costs him All-Star appearances.
It's what makes me wonder if we'd have a different perception of KG and Kevin McHale and the Minnesota Timberwolves of the last decade if Stephon Marbury had simply been the type of player to accept playing second fiddle.
It's what makes me realize that the Portland Trail Blazers, even with all of their assets, have a big challenge as they make moves going forward, just because they have such a nice ego balance with Roy, Oden, and Aldridge all seemingly to coexist peacefully no matter the relative attention one or the other might get. This especially applies to B-Roy, who handled the initially Oden hoopla so gracefully, even though he had already established himself as a young star."
Arsenalist of Raptors Republic: "As unlikely as a playoff spot is, I'm still looking forward to this bunch at least try and make a push to prove that they're more than a collection of overrated misfits and underachievers. The trade has breathed a little purpose into the season and I felt that as I made the brisk walk over to Philthy's to catch yet another game on TSN2. Going up against Cleveland sans Chris Bosh and having two new players is an impossible challenge so all you really looked for in this game is some signs of whether this group could seriously pose a threat to anyone but my blood pressure. Results were leaning towards the negative...
Marion last night showed what he could possibly do for us. His defense on Lebron was good enough to force him into low-percentage shots, he got a steal off a front on Ilgauskas (no easy task) and took his man off the dribble for a couple scores. He made some good entry-passes (that's a big deal for us) and executed a jump-hook in the low-block, which I think will be his primary means of scoring. If we can get him into the post through a slip-screen he has the leaping and finishing ability to be a scoring threat. He looked lost at times, for example on one play Calderon used the high-screen and Marion sealed his man off so Jose could continue with his drive but instead he pulled up. Marion didn't get why he did that and took the rest of the possession off by standing in the corner. All in all a decent game considering he's guarding Lebron James - 10 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks...
A note about up-tempo play. If Shawn Marion thinks we'll be playing up-tempo ball in Toronto I hate to disappoint him. As I see it there are two problems. Firstly, you need the ball to run and we don't have the rebounding to facilitate early break opportunities. Secondly, no team will ever be able to run 'n gun with Jose Calderon at the point. He simply does not have the court-vision, blow-by speed and pushing mentality that is needed for that style..."
Matt McHale of By the Horns: "If this was Kirk's swan song as a Bull, it was a pretty good one. For my part, I don't want him to go. The Bulls have been a better team with him than without him this season. He's the perfect safety net to have under Derrick Rose, who still makes his share of rookie mistakes (particularly on the defensive end). I know conventional wisdom says Hinrich's contract is greater than his worth as a basketball player, but I'm not sure I agree with that. Remember, it wasn't even two full seasons ago that he was being touted as the next John Stockton. And while that was a gross overestimation, I'd say he still has value, more to the Bulls, maybe, than to anybody else. I hope we hold onto him."
THE FINAL WORD
Hardwood Paroxysm: Great moments in trade deadline history.
Celtics Hub: This year's Celts vs. Last year's Celts
Queen City Hoops: When 41% from the field isn't as bad it sounds.
(Photos by Sam Forencich, Ron Turenne, Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Magic Johnson says he won't make the same mistake twice and recommend Isiah Thomas for front office or coaching jobs in the National Basketball Association.
Johnson five years ago told New York Knicks executives that they should hire Thomas, his good friend. Thomas, a Hall of Fame point guard, was fired as coach and president of the Knicks last year as the team suffered through its seventh straight losing season and was at the center of a sexual-harassment lawsuit won by a former team official.
"I couldn't recommend him again because he's failed a couple times now," Johnson, who won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio's "On the Ball" program airing Nov. 29. "So I would probably have to just pass on that one."
Remember they were famous for kissing each other on the court? My whole career is about people telling the truth. I love the truth!
But some little part of me would like the world better if Magic Johnson had stood by his friend.
Assuming they are still friends.
Police in Harrison, New York say they got a 911 call last night from Isiah Thomas's house.
Somebody -- police would not say who -- had overdosed on the prescription sleeping drug Lunesta. I talked to the Harrison police chief, David Hall, who was quoted in ESPN.com's news story, which has a lot of details:
"We administered oxygen, and then when the ambulance arrived, they transported the person to White Plains Hospital."
Hall told the New York Daily News the victim had taken 10 pills.
The Daily News also reported the victim was 46-years-old. Thomas is 47.
Here's the Daily News article in question, in which Hall could not make clearer that the police had been there to help a man who had taken too many sleeping pills.
But that same article has just been updated with word from Isiah Thomas's son that the focus was Isiah's daughter, Isiah didn't take any pills, and everyone is fine:
"He's fine," Thomas' son, Joshua, 20, told the Daily News.
Joshua Thomas, a student at Indiana University, claimed that cops went to his family's home because his sister, Lauren, 18, who suffers from hypoglycemia, wasn't feeling well.
"Reports of sleeping pills are false," Joshua Thomas added. "He doesn't take sleeping pills. He doesn't really take anything that's not organic.
"He looked faint from stressing over her. They sat him down, let him drink some water. He's fine," the son said.
Hopefully we'll get some clarity soon as to what happened here. I have left messages with everybody I can think to call.
Now, what is Lunesta? It's a brand name for eszopiclone. According to several medical websites, eszopiclone is a sedative hypnotic (and one of the drugs that was found in Heath Ledger's apartment at the time of his death).
Writing for WebMD in January, Michael Breus PhD, ABSM expressed skepticism that a drug like Lunesta alone could be dangerous enough to be fatal:
With today's new class of sleeping pills it's highly unlikely that you can overdose to the point that you kill yourself (there is one paper showing someone took 180 10mg tabs of Ambien and woke up 4 days later, no problems).
Like alcohol, Lunesta works by causing depression of the central nervous system.
Almost everywhere on the internet with any description of Lunesta warns of taking too much, or combining Lunesta with alcohol or other medications. But only a handful discuss the possibility that Lunesta alone could be fatal.
WebMD's Lunesta drug reference says "Symptoms of overdose may include: confusion, fainting, or a deep sleep from which you cannot be awakened."
So, no doubt you have heard that Isiah Thomas has been re-assigned.
He was once president and head coach of the New York Knicks.
Then he was just head coach.
Now he's not even head coach anymore.
And yet somehow he's not unemployed, either.
Which makes him ... highly paid guy without a title, reporting to Donnie Walsh.
Makes you wonder what kind of amazing connection Thomas has with owner James Dolan.
I can't say I have a good grasp of what Isiah Thomas is like, or to what degree he is responsible for the misery that is the current New York Knicks. (Certainly Larry Brown couldn't make that environment work either. Maybe it's all Isiah's fault. Maybe not. We'll see.)
In any case, a lot of people have themselves convinced that Thomas is a disgrace, and it's impossible to argue those people don't have some strong evidence, including that sexual harrassment verdict, and a bundle of bad trades.
TrueHoop reader Kyle, a long-suffering Knicks fan, is amazed that Thomas is still part of the franchise. This is an edited (for length) version of his long email:
Is there any team in the NBA today who would not fire Isiah Thomas? Hell, look at the great franchises such as the Spurs, Suns, and Pistons. Would they not do everything in their power to distance themselves from what might be one of the worst GM's/presidents in sports history? You'd think the tanking tv ratings, fear of losing season ticket subscribers, and alienating the fan base would cement his pink slip. It is an utter slap in the face this man still has a job.
Most news outlets and fans will be relieved he is neither a) president or b) coach. Instead he is languishing in an unnamed position. Yet according to Walsh, whose first major decision is clearly a wink to Dolan, has dropped brilliant quotes such as, "I can't tell you really where we failed," "I will be in touch with Isiah a lot," and "I feel like some of the bigger events that happened on the way with Isiah overshadowed some of the good things." So in essence the man who tanked this franchise still has the ear of the general manager, and it seems ever more likely also has the ear of James Dolan. Or will it take another behind closed door meeting with both parties leaving the office laughing to further prove that Dolan loves Isiah?
I guess for me it's the principle of the matter and the terror that Isiah still has some pull in this franchise. Total autonomy for Walsh? Did anyone ever really buy that?
The point is this man who has caused Knicks fans such heartache is still in there, and still talking to the top executives. Is this not unbelievable? I understand Dolan is equally, if not more to blame, but it's hard to take action against a owner, you know?
Henry, I know this sounds alarmist but I'm just a Knicks fan who's had enough. His punishment, if you even call it that, is woefully inferior to the crime. I feel robbed of justice as the shadow of Isiah still, STILL, looms over this franchise. The spirit of 94 and 99 seem so long ago at this point.
My best guess? I could be wrong, but I would guess that Thomas is working on a way to depart the Knicks himself. For a man with a lot of pride, hanging around at the behest of those hired to clean up your mess must be hard. Surely, at some point, the money stops being worth that indignity.
And it wouldn't surprise if that is part of the Knicks' thinking. You don't take a key executive's job away entirely and then expect that executive to happily hang around forever. They have to be expecting him to look for another job.
Also, I'm very curious to know: have they actually made him physically move out of his office? That kind of thing would surely be humiliating for all involved.
Larry Fleisher at InsideHoops has dug through the archives of The New York Times and assembled a massive treasure trove of Isiah Thomas quotes. Some of it is pretty amazing.
One that stuck out to me is this, from a February 16, 2004 Times story by Chris Broussard:
I wanted to put together a team that was exciting for the fans to come and watch, a team that had some character and some guts, but also a team that you can grab a box of popcorn and grab a soda and enjoy the game.
Here's what strikes me about that: this is a great choice of a quote if you want to make the case that Isiah Thomas has been insincere. (Have you been to the Garden lately? With a few exceptions, the mood is not enjoyable.)
But the thing is, I suspect Thomas was being totally sincere. Blame it on whatever you want, but things have just not worked out.
I bet the biggest culprit was the determination to use outspending as a competitive advantage. As Portland and New York have both proved in the past, in a league with a salary cap, carrying excessive contracts is a burden even if you don't mind spending the money.
Man, that Knick game last night really got a lot of people talking. All of a sudden, they are just the topic.
I sense that among Knick fans, people are desperate for change, any change at all.
As it happens, Isiah Thomas is both the architect of this miserable roster, and the only piece of the James Dolan/Isiah Thomas/Stephon Marbury puzzle that is really severable from the larger whole in a timely fashion.
The New York media is writing the story like it is a certainty that Thomas will soon be gone, saying things like (this from Frank Isola of the New York Daily News): "It is hard to imagine that Thomas will survive much longer."
ESPN's Chris Sheridan wonders if Thomas might even want to be fired:
Taking it all in with a pronounced frown on his face was owner Jim Dolan, who marched straight into Isiah Thomas' office after the game and either did not have the guts, the will or the good sense to do the right thing and fire his head coach and president.
There was such a palpable level of tension in the hallway beneath the stands, you half-expected Isiah to walk out of his office with a pink slip in his hand -- especially after watching Dolan slump and slouch through one of the most humiliating nights his team has ever had in its own building. But Thomas instead walked down the hallway with his head still held high, made his way through the back corridor to the interview room and placed the blame for this latest loss squarely on his own shoulders.
"You never want to see this kind of display of basketball. That's on me -- on my desk," he said, sounding ever more like a man who might actually want to be fired.
Thomas shot a sharp look at a Knicks PR official when he cut off the interview, then stopped as he got up and made sure everyone heard him one last time: "That was not the players' fault. This one is on me tonight."
But help me through this. Let's do a little thought exercise.
Imagine. Isiah Thomas is gone. Umm ... are the Knicks good now?
I am not going to tell you that he is not part of the problem.
I'm just trying to think a few more steps ahead. What's it going to take to make this team win? I'm certain that the answer is not on the sidelines, but in the front office, where somebody needs to shake this organization right down its core. I have no idea who it might be (Glen Grunwald? Donnie Walsh? Jerry Colangelo?) but someone needs to map out a long-term plan to fix the culture of this sick organization. It'll mean wholesale roster changes and a radically different approach to the game of basketball.
Dumping Isiah Thomas might be a small part of that process. But splitting up with your coach and your GM is not like splitting up with your high school girlfriend. The playoffs are not a dance you can attend stag. You need both, and they both need to be extremely good in this highly competitive environment.
Who comes next matters a lot more than when Isiah Thomas's run ends.
The road to a good Knicks team starts with making the correct difficult decisions about how to handle all these massive salaries. Someone needs to make the magic list of who stays (I guess David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, Nate Robinson, maybe Eddy Curry), how you get rid of everyone else, and who you replace them with. And then someone has to have the skill and owner support to make those changes.
And that process will almost certainly take a couple of years, and it will almost certainly result in a young team.
The right coach, the coach who'll be on the sidelines when the Knicks are next great, will probably arrive on the scene after most of that bloodletting has taken place.
My point being: if you could wave a magic wand and replace Isiah Thomas with any coach in the league, I doubt you would have fixed much. Larry Brown couldn't make it work. Isiah Thomas couldn't make it work. You really think [insert name here] (who -- who are you going to get? -- Jeff Van Gundy is the best big name out there, everyone gets all aflutter about Phil Jackson) is going to make Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and company into winners?Fire Isiah or don't fire Isiah. What happens next week or next month isn't the key to the Knicks. What really matters is who's going to lead the hard work of anchoring an organization that has been adrift for some time.
On my way home from watching the Warriors wax the Knicks.
I can't decide who was the most unhappy person in Madison Square Garden tonight.
- By looks, it's James Dolan, who could barely manage to stay upright as he harrumphed his way through the game in his baseline seat. He's rich! He's powerful! He stars in his own rock band! He owns the fanciest and most expensive toy in the world: the New York Knicks! And he's slumping and morose throughout the game. At one point they handed him what I assume was a box score, and he sneered at it.
- Could be Mardy Collins whose 1/4 assist-to-turnover ratio only begins to tell the tale of how impressively he did not make a case for more minutes. (His misses, turnovers, and fouls compared to his total points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks: 9/3)
- Could be Jared Jeffries, who worked like a dog all summer retooling his game, and now can't get on the court.
- Could be Stephon Marbury, who stood on the floor in the middle of his hometown, in the world's "most famous arena," and was booed every time he touched the ball. In a special treat from his coach he was also given the gift of getting his starting job back on the night Baron Davis was in town to embarrass whomever was starting. Baron Davis (who is an absolute joy to watch) ended up with 31, 7, and 6. If Stephen Jackson had warmed up a little earlier, Davis could have had ten assists or more.
- Could be Isiah Thomas, the person who has to answer for this mess. The man carries himself with a certain poise, which is not easy when the crowd repeatedly chants "fire Isiah!" He said after the game that with the basketball that was being played on the court, fans deserved to yell whatever they wanted.
- Could be Nate Robinson, who appers to play harder than any other Knick, and ended up with an 0-fer.
- In reality, though, gven all of the above, I guess you have to hand the crown to any Knick fan (or these guys) who showed up hoping to be entertained tonight. The mood in that arena was apathetic and sour. Something has got to give.
Stern said an internal review had found that all of the league's 56 referees violated the contractual prohibition against engaging in gambling, with more than half of them admitting to placing wagers in casinos. But Stern said none of the violations was major, and no referees had admitted to wagering in a sports book or with a bookie.
"Our ban on gambling is absolute, and in my view it is too absolute, too harsh and was not particularly well-enforced over the years," Stern said. "We're going to come up with a new set of rules that make sense."
(Side note: this sure blows that Mitch Lawrence story out of the water, huh?)
All of the violations were minor, says Stern, like betting in NCAA pools, visiting table games at casinos, gambling on golf, and the like.
Wow, huh? That's something. The idea, I guess, is that everyone does a little of that, so what's the big deal? This may well be the only correct response.
But the counterpoint is that the league needs to have some mechanism to detect those who might have big gambling debts and presumably could be influenced, by their need for cash, to throw games. Be interesting to see how the league plans to address that. Not sure where you draw the line now. No really big bets? No betting if you are a lousy bettor?
Also, this seems like a little bit of a valentine from the NBA to the gambling industry. David Stern is clearly no longer looking down his nose at casinos, saying society has changed and how he's even cool with his referees gathered around the craps table.
Stern's also, he happened to mention, still open to expansion to Las Vegas.
Read Sheridan's whole story. There's a lot more news. For instance: The NBA expects to get to interview Tim Donaghy soon, Stu Jackson and Ronnie Nunn are having their responsibilities trimmed so they will ultimately have less oversight of referees, Stern is open to punishments related to the Anucha Browne Sanders case, and every employee of every NBA team will undergo sexual harassment training.
Things happen in funny ways.
Not too long ago, I wrote something about Doug and Jackie Christie holding 13 weddings. That prompted an email from Michael Levin, who co-wrote the book "No Ordinary Love" with the Christies.
He said, essentially, that I misunderstood them, and should read their book.
So I did. I was on page 61, in fact, when news broke that then-Knicks intern (and current Knick employee) "getting into the truck" with Stephon Marbury.
Page 61, and I'm quoting Doug here, goes something like this:
I think everybody understands that the NBA has a lot of groupies, waiting outside the arena, at the hotel, wherever, just to meet the ballplayers. What I think a lot of people don't know is that some of those groupies actually end up getting jobs with some of the teams! It's not the teams' fault. It's not like they recruit these women. The women recruit the teams.
It is probably understood all around that these girls are going to end up having relationships with the players. I'll give you an example. Let's say you've got an autograph signing to do. Well, the team might send over an attractive girl to drive you in her car. She might be flirting or just really friendly. And then one thing leads to another and you get caught up in that whole situation -- something I didn't want anything to do with. If we were going to a signing, I would bring my wife with me and we would enjoy it together.
My worlds were colliding. Between the Christies' book and the Marbury story, suddenly my eyes were opened to the underworld of NBA team employees engaging in sexual behavior with players.
It seems like it was not just a one-off either. Jackie writes later on the same page: "Tight skirts and low-cut tops were the norm. And don't let the players have a team meeting, because the girls will come dressed to kill."
I thought to myself, hmm ... this is one strange trend. And the Christies are clearly willing to talk openly about it. So maybe they'll talk to me about it.
And they were nice enough to do just that.
Here's a transcription of our email conversation (with their notations as to who's speaking):
Doug and Jackie, you enjoyed Toronto, and speak highly of your time there with Isiah Thomas. Yet you also are clearly strong believers that women should be treated with dignity. What was your take on this trial?
Doug and Jackie: Our take on the trial that involved Isiah Thomas was that he is innocent, as we were in Toronto with him for a while. He is the utmost professional. He is a kind person. Very high integrity man. He has a beautiful family and always encouraged the team in Toronto to include their families. From what we read of the trial we strongly believe in his 100% innocence and stand behind him.
And yes, we do feel women, as well as men, should always be treated with dignity and respect and we talk a great deal about this in our book. We want to see all people treat each other in the best possible way.
In general, how would you say NBA teams treat women, compared to the rest of society?
Doug and Jackie: We would say they treat them well and sometimes to a fault as the positions that some of the woman hold allow them a great deal of access to the team. Teams are going to find in that case they will have more women having complaints, warranted or not, like what we see here in the New York case.
The teams have to set stricter guidelines as to how the team and the employees work together. We are not saying it can't be done, as it can, but first and foremost they have to make sure that there is a clear line of communication between everyone as to what certain employees responsibilities are, and to set clear boundaries around team, management, and employee relationships. There should be some sort of quarterly meeting involving the full staff members and team to keep the lines of communication open and to squash any problems before they get out of hand.
In this way everyone is held accountable. That is all we were saying, when I played for certain teams: OK, I personally do not want any misunderstandings for me or my family so I will remove my self from the situation altogether.
One of the implications of the MSG verdict was that at this team, at least, women are welcome to be sex objects, but less welcome to be sources of authority. Your book makes it seem like you found that to be the case, too, correct? Can you explain what made you feel that way?
Doug and Jackie: We feel that the teams don't necessarily welcome the sex symbol attitude of some, but did not discourage it either. They simply seem to feel that if the person was performing their job then that was what counted.
But at the same, it is not good to have that sort of behavior in the environment of the NBA. It doesn't help with public perception or the stereotyping of the league, and it lends to the players as well as the management being put into situations that allow for these kinds of lawsuits.
Let's tread carefully here. I don't want to put words in your mouth ... In the case of the Knicks, we heard about an intern who had sex with a player, and then was put on the team staff and later given a promotion. When I heard about that, I was struck that in your book -- which was written long before this story was ever in the media -- you talk first-hand of teams having attractive young women on the payroll whose jobs, it seemed to you, was to be flirtatious and possibly more. Are you suggesting that teams keep young women around to "please" players?
Doug: I would say, after being in the league for 15 years now, that I have seen a lot and there does seem to be a large number of younger attractive women employed on some teams. Often their job is to deal directly with the players, like media relations, community relations, and so on all the way up to the GM's assistant, the coach's assistant, and the receptionist.
Sometimes they are allowed to come into the locker room and place packages (mail) etc. in the players lockers and things like that. They come in even while players are disrobed partially and I just always felt that was not such a great idea, as not only could they feel they are being harassed if guys start joking around, but we also may not be dressed at all, and guys are married and in relationships and that's just not good.
As a free agent, you, Doug, were told by the Sonics last season that you were welcome to join the team, but they didn't want Jackie hanging around much. You decided not to join the team. Is this a pattern of not wanting strong women around to break up the frat house atmosphere?
Doug: I would say that it has to be, on some teams.
My wife is my support system. She is my freind, my wife, my secretary, my assistant, and someone who makes sure that I'm able to just go out there and give my team my all each and every night. She makes sure I get everything I need from massages on the road (she books the appointments) to all of my appearances. (I have never missed one, by the way). If any paperwork is needed she handles it for me and our family.
In turn, the team gets a player that can go out there and play his best ball every night, with a clear mind. I can stay focused.
So, yeah, I would have loved to play for my hometown team, God knows I would -- but not at the cost of my family. And besides, who knows what this year holds! Maybe there is a team out there that can use a 14-year veteran in tip-top shape, 100% healthy, with clarity and focus to get the job done!
What is all this about? Why are there so many stories like this about professional athletes?
Doug and Jackie: There is a stereotypical cloud that hangs over pro athletes that I hope to dissolve by living the example and showing everyone, even if it means being teased and mocked and lied about. I believe that when the team owners decide enough is enough and start to praise the good behavior more, and the sports media highlight more of the good, that's when these stories will start to go away.
I mean, listen: The NBA is a great place to work. But there will be backlash if a player is not seen as the norm. So my wife and I have been taking a whole lot of unnecessary hits, but if it is for the good of the sport I live and breathe then so be it. There will be other players coming up behind me that will not have to go through what I did, with all these negative stories just because they love and respect their family.
(Photo by Arnold Turner/WireImage/Getty Images)
The sports lawyer Howard Wasserman, whom I linked to yesterday, has been thinking about it further, and is now more certain than ever that the league is wrong to hide behind the "it's a civil case" argument. On the Sports Law Blog he writes:
Private litigation has become a (the?) significant method of enforcing federal policy prohibiting gender discrimination in employment. Since the government does not have the resources or energy to pursue every instance of unlawful employment discrimination, anti-discrimination laws, by design, depend on private civil enforcement. Injured persons, acting as "private attorneys general," use private civil litigation to enforce federal law against wrongdoers, and in doing so, serve and further the public interest in seeking to ensure societal equality. The jury found that Thomas and MSG violated federal and state law, violations that routinely are exposed and remedied through civil rather than criminal litigation.
Second, this view ignores that there are civil matters and then there are civil matters. This cannot be treated the same as a civil suit arising from off-the-court conduct, such as a car accident or a contract dispute with the guy Thomas hired to renovate his house. If Thomas were found liable for failing to pay his contractor, and even ordered to pay substantial damages, no NBA response is appropriate. But this lawsuit arises out of Thomas' role as the president and coach of an NBA team, and goes precisely to how Thomas performs his NBA-related functions. That is a question with which the league should be concerned, again regardless of whether it is civil or criminal. One could argue, I suppose, that Thomas and/or Dolan could be a good team executives, good at what they do, business-wise, even if they treat their employees poorly. But that does not work when we go beyond mere poor treatment and into unlawful treatment.
Or consider the question this way: Should the league be more concerned with players' off-court criminal misconduct that has nothing to do with the league (other than the effect on "image") than with a team executive's civil misconduct arising from the way that executive performs his league duties?
Or this way: Suppose a white team executive fired his Black head coach because of the coach's race and explicitly used racial slurs in doing it and the coach prevails on a race discrimination claim, recovering major compensatory and punitive damages. Would Stern really do nothing to the executive because it is a "civil matter"?
If you read my last post, you know that I have been wondering about Madison Square Garden. Let's assume the jury was right, and the work environment there is pretty much scandalously terrible for women.
What forces might be in play to make it better?
Dr. Martha Burk knows about that kind of stuff. You can read her full biography here.
She is an expert in politics and women's equity, co-founder of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy, and author of the book "Cult of Power" about sexual discrimination in the workplace. She's also the former chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations who famously pressured Augusta National Golf Club to allow female members.
She took my questions by phone earlier today.
Do you think the NBA has an obligation to, in some way, reprimand or punish the Knicks or Isiah Thomas?
They don't have a legal obligation, but they do have a moral one. The Knicks and the NBA, one's fate depends on the other. That leverage could be used to great effect. The fact that it's not shows how seriously these things are taken by the League.
The fact that the League is not doing anything about it is, frankly, not a big surprise to me.
Can we expect voluntary changes in the way business is conducted at the Garden?
This verdict is a good symbolic victory. But the judgment is not big enough to get anybody's real attention. I'm glad she did it, don't get me wrong. And I saw her statement about how she did it on behalf of working women everywhere. But this is probably a small judgment in terms of the Garden's total operating expenses. It probably won't even be a footnote in the Garden's annual report. It's like a mosquito bite. Not enough of a problem to force a change. It's just the cost of doing business and you move on.
What methods might activists use to pressure the Garden?
I haven't looked at it, but one thing somebody should do is look into the chartering of Madison Square Garden. Is there city or state money going in there? If there is, then pressuring the state or city bodies to impose real discipline, or at least strong warnings in case this happens again, would be a good step. I don't know the financial underpinnings of the Garden, but if there's public money in there, public entities would absolutely be in a position to bring pressure.
The stories that the jury presumably found most credible from the trial were, if true, amazing. A woman routinely called "bitch" in the workplace, then hugged, kissed, and propositioned. An intern having sex with a high-profile employee. Sexual harassment by the star's cousin, and the team's president. An executive fired for raising the issue. And there's another Madison Square Garden case coming down pike. It sounds like romper room.
It sounds like a frat house, doesn't it? But it's not shocking. It's part of a continuum that starts in junior high. Athletes are treated like special people. Look at any high school. I'm from Texas, and that Friday Night Lights thing hasn't changed in 35 years. Think about Lawrence Philips. He dragged a woman down the stairs by the hair. And in the long run he just got bigger and bigger as a football star. They feel things like rules -- of society, of decency, and of the law -- are beneath them.
Where else, but in sports, could an employee do something like have sex with an intern and not get fired? Can you imagine that at some bank? Or a medical facility? Any corporation?
And the leagues hold players to no accountability for that kind of behavior. That makes a huge statement.
They get in more trouble for fighting with each other than they do for mistreating women.
And yet, in promoting the WNBA, the NBA and its partners have a strong pro-woman message.
But do they mean it? The salaries in the WNBA are pathetic compared to the NBA. I know, I know, they'll tell you the NBA makes money and the WNBA doesn't. But the NBA didn't make money for the first 25 years it existed. Then they bitch and moan about paying women $40,000 more, when all they make is $40,000. David Stern himself was very very supportive in all of his public statements when he talked about women and how they make the WNBA so good. I commended him for that, until their agreement came up for negotiations three or four years ago. The union asked me to help raise the profile of their issues, which I did to the best of my ability. And then David Stern went negative, so to speak.
There has been talk that activists might go after those who sponsor the Knicks, the Garden, or the NBA.
I think that's entirely appropriate. Corporations put their dollars where their values are. And if Madison Square Garden is systematically engaging in diminishing women, and maybe even criminal behavior, it says something about the corporations who support that.
And that's a marketplace solution. They all cry about regulations. This isn't regulatory. This is the market saying we don't support this.
Do those kinds of efforts work?
It's difficult. I have tried it with some success, and some "not success." It depends on the individual at the head of the corporation in question. It depends on who's on the board. It depends on what other trouble there is for that corporation at that moment.
But in the end, they tend to look at the dollars first, and make a calculation. They look at the income from the sponsorship versus the cost of the public relations hit, and then proceed accordingly.
At Augusta National, for instance, despite what Hootie Johnson said, sponsors pulled out. They allowed him to say that he had dropped them, but they were in touch with me and I know that several walked away.
Then it all blows over, and many of them come back. Coca-Cola was a prominent one that did not return. But several others did.
If Madison Square Garden said they wanted to do better, what kinds of changes would you like to see?
There's something that, in legal circles, they call programmatic reform. It's a process for training accountability, letting everyone know what's happening, and setting up whistle-blower and ombudsman programs. The training is the main thing. And then, if there are reports of trouble, you need the whistleblower protected from being fired or marginalized, and swift action in response.
The bottom line is that people know what they can get away with, because they know what they have been getting away with. For example, if players knew they would lose their job if they got into a fight in a bar, there would be a lot less of that. It's the same thing here. If people know they won't get in trouble for mistreating women, you're essentially giving them permission to do so.
And this kind of program wouldn't cost more than a drop in the bucket.
Recently there was a big Morgan Stanley settlement. It was $46 million in a class action laws
uit. There was a $7.5 million component for programmatic relief. It will shape their policies, set up new procedures, and ultimately change how they think about women.
Is there reason to believe that program will work?
It can. The best indicator is whether or not the behavior that started it all happens again.
The other thing they can do at Madison Square Garden is put more women on the board of directors, and in "direct line" positions. Women have a different sensibility about these things, and kind of breaks up the boy's club, or frat house mentality.
I don't know how closely you keep in touch with the goings on around the NBA, but do you have reason to believe this kind of thing is common around the league?
I have no reason to believe it isn't. And for the reasons I gave earlier -- the culture of sports, and the immunity of athletes -- you have to wonder.
I think I know the answer to this, but just please explain, if you will, exactly why the kind of behavior described in the Isiah Thomas trial is bad.
You're treating someone as a lesser being. It's personally demeaning, and insulting. Every day. You're treated like someone who is there to be used. We see the same thing in racial harassment law suits, where people are objectified, made to feel lesser. You are diminished, and the organization where it's happening is diminished in a different way.
And it generalizes to your view of women outside the workplace. It's like a chicken and egg thing. Some men don't have respect for women as a group. So then individual women are fair game. And the more that happens, the more you see and partake in demeaning women as individuals, the more you lose respect for them as a group.
A lot of male bigwigs in the NBA and at Madison Square Garden presumably have mothers, wives, and daughters, right? Wouldn't that make it hard to sweep women's issues under the rug?
Many men are willing to divorce situations like this from their families and loved ones. They just don't think like that. I think it is possible to be a good husband and father and all that while behaving this way at work, because people are bifurcated. Other women are "them." And then their wives and daughters they see differently.
And until something really meaningful happens -- it costs them their jobs, or it costs so much money that the organization can't tolerate it anymore -- they don't change.
This verdict, in this case, will quite likely be reduced, too. That's what happens in a lot of these kinds of cases.
So, it's a good symbolic victory, but it will probably not be enough to stop this kind of thing from happening again.
(Photo: Joyce Naltchayan/Getty Images)