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Blind to truth, Isiah reaches new levels of chutzpah

by | Columnist

If the good folks at Florida International University didn't feel like fools the day they hired Isiah Thomas to run their basketball program, they surely do now.

After all, he has now included on his résumé the line, "Will loudly beg for a job I sucked at." And all at the university's expense.

In a long-ranging interview with ESPN's Ian O'Connor, the Hall of Fame guard and much-properly-maligned executive said when asked if he ever thinks about replacing Donnie Walsh as the head of the New York Knickerbockers, he said in that subtle and nuanced way of his, "Every day of the week."

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This, while he has a job, presumably with people who would like him to focus on doing it.

But the folks at FIU knew what they were getting when they hired him because he has been the same executive he has always been -- he wants to do things his way, not always with the most thorough level of preparation, and then explain away the mistakes as NMF.

Not My Fault.

It isn't a stretch to see him getting that second crack at the Knicks, particularly since the owner, James Dolan, is so easily mesmerized by Thomas.

But it is a wonderment to see FIU's administration sit back and see a guy actively campaigning for a job that hasn't been offered to him. You would think that at some point one of them might call him and say, "Uhh, should we be looking for someone to replace you before the season starts?"

Or, "Before the week is out?"

Thomas' principal argument for regaining the Knicks job is that if you don't look at the things he got wrong, he did things right. Well, that positions the bar at a nice qualifying height.

But that's not his only claim. He also claims to be Isiah Thomas and therefore well-positioned to be Isiah Thomas in another job. This is indisputable, a well-crafted argument by any stretch.

But his record as an executive is, well, brutal, especially in New York, which is where he wants to return. And the folks at FIU, who probably suspected they were, in hiring Thomas, getting a short-term publicity bump and not much more, are finding that the bump they got was caused by a rock that said, "You got played, too."

And here's the selling point he uses in rebuttal:

"When I look at my GM/executive record, if I'm evaluated on that, then whoever's after Donnie, if you're not talking about some of the top people in the game, I'll put my draft evaluation record up against anyone's."

Isiah Thomas' New York focus can't go over well with his current boss, FIU AD Pete Garcia. (Getty Images)  
Isiah Thomas' New York focus can't go over well with his current boss, FIU AD Pete Garcia. (Getty Images)  
In other words, if you look past "some of the top people in the game," he's on a par with midlevel guys who also get fired after a few years. If anyone else made that argument for any other job, he or she would be lucky to get the parking validated before being ushered out of the building.

If there is a reason for the Knicks to go along with this notion, it can only be found in Dolan's almost pathological fascination with the sound of Thomas' voice and the lilt of his logical leaps. Even if you think Thomas was unkindly served in New York, an executive with his track record does not get rehired at a place he mismanaged once before. Rehirings are almost exclusively reserved for people who, well, succeeded. Trying to recapture that old magic, like that. It almost never works, but that doesn't prevent people without original ideas from trying.

Taking Thomas back would, though, be an original idea because it is so spectacularly bad. And Florida International, whose motto is still, "Not Florida Atlantic, Although We Are Often Confused When Thought Of At All," is getting worked by a guy taking their money to use the copier to send out résumés.

In fairness, the level of brass Thomas has in working this angle is breathtaking. His confidence in the face of an achievement level which should normally lead to self-esteem issues is remarkable. It can only be fully explained if he believes Dolan is a gullible sap, and he might well be. I mean, look at the Knicks.

In the meantime, FIU is standing there being made to look stupid because they hired a guy they knew was never interested in them anyway, just needed a place to earn before he went back and wasn't going to leave any kind of lasting footprint on the program.

Sort of like what he did with the Knicks. And the Pacers before that. And the Continental Basketball Association before that. And the Raptors before that. He didn't waste those enterprises alone, but he hasn't had a single success in the business since he stopped playing.

And we've made this case without even including the Anucha Browne Sanders case, in which he and the organization were found guilty of sexual harassment and agreed to pay $11.5 million. He claims his innocence, and perhaps he was. The evidence doesn't stand with him, though, and neither does his work product. Too many huge mistakes, too many failed gambles, too few wins.

But he wants back in, which means he wants to get away from FIU as quickly as possible. Now there's an employee of the month. Maybe he can put that plaque next to the one he got in New York, and between them, they'll make a strange but gaudy serving dish for Thanksgiving.

Oh, and by the way, stay tuned for the press conference from Madison Square Garden. Because he's going to get this done, too. His résumé may fail when it comes to other names, but he's a stone champion when it comes to Isiah Thomas.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.


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