Wednesday , Dec , 20 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Isiah Thomas: Threaten This

“He’s a jerk.”

“He’s full of shit.”

“He’s a total asshole.”

These words describe Isiah Thomas, head coach and ringleader of the New York Knicks basketball team. They are colorful and lively, but other than that, they bear no resemblance to anything I’ve ever said or written about Thomas. No, the words above are not mine; they come from Denver Nuggets coach George Karl.

Isiah Thomas: Threaten ThisThey may not be my words, but they are one hundred percent accurate.

On December 16th at Madison Square garden we saw without a doubt the worst NBA brawl since the Pistons-Pacers debacle two years ago. With 1:15 left to play in the fourth quarter and Denver up 119-100, rookie Mardy Collins, committed a flagrant foul on J.R Smith as Smith was about to take off for a fast break dunk. Describing what followed with the words, ‘chaos ensued’ doesn’t even do it justice.

Players gathered, benches cleared, shoves were exchanged, and then finally sucker punches were thrown. You know the deal, you watch ESPN too, I’m sure.

It was ridiculous to watch. Words like sad and pathetic would be apt to describe it. But the feeling you get while watching the footage is best conveyed as something I call a ‘head shaking feeling’ that sentiment that wearily wonders why these guys just don’t get it.

But just when it looked like this was an all too familiar NBA altercation, cut and dry, another piece of footage surfaced, this time not of a player, but of a coach. Isiah Thomas on the sidelines, just moments before the foul by Mardy Collins occurred, seen talking to Carmelo Anthony. With zero skills in lip reading, anyone can determine what Thomas said, "Don’t go in the paint again. It wouldn’t be nice."

This is me, shaking my head.

Why doesn’t this guy get it?

There’s a reason why I agree with George Karl, it has to with a small detail about him being right, not only about Isiah’s character, but about the game itself.

If you listen enough to both sides talk, you’ll begin to think there was a ‘reason’ for all of this going down, and that someone specifically was to blame. That would be a mistake. When something this ugly, this despicable, goes down, everyone is to blame, and the only reason for any of it happening, quite simply, is that players and coaches on both sides couldn’t control themselves and conduct themselves as professionals.

With that being said, however, the defense of the New York Knicks and Isiah Thomas concerning this incident is absolutely ludicrous. By their logic, George Karl is to blame for trying to ‘run up the score’ and leaving his starters on the floor. And when Isiah Thomas was threatening, I mean, chatting with, Carmelo Anthony, he was only imploring him to show some class by avoiding a certain portion of the floor. Right. As ESPN’s Mark Stein wrote, that’s "laughable."

I’m not about to defend either side, I’ll get to the Nuggets in due time. But first and foremost I have to address the Knicks side of this. The idea that the Knicks were somehow ‘insulted’ by having the score run up against them is simply childish. The idea that is somehow excuses what happened is down right deplorable. At first I didn’t even get it, the first sound bite I hear of Thomas after the game is something about how Anthony and Camby shouldn’t have been in the game.

What? Your team has just been involved in one of the worst fights in recent league history and all you have to say for yourself is that some guys on the other team shouldn’t have been in the game?

I must have missed something. I must have missed the part where professional players and coaches can complain like they were in the fourth grade. I’ve seen high school teams handle blowouts better than Thomas and the Knicks. This isn’t some junior high recreation league game, this is the NBA, and there is no mercy rule. These are professional athletes being paid vast sums of money to compete and compete well regardless of the score. That Isiah claims his team had given up, and therefore the Nuggets were some how obligated to go easy on them, is an insult to all professional athletes everywhere, and above that, it’s a bold faced lie.

With seven minutes left to go in the third quarter of Saturday’s game, the Nuggets were leading 82-56, a staggering twenty-six point lead. By the end of the third quarter – in just seven minutes – that lead had been cut to 94-84, that’s a 28-10 run by the Knicks. Four of the five players on the floor during that stretch were also on the floor when the Mardy Collins foul occurred.

Let me make this as clear as I possibly can, Isiah Thomas did not in any way, shape, or form give up in that game. He had the group of players he did on the floor, not because they were reserves or because of the score, he had them on the floor because that group had the played best for him in that game. Isiah Thomas did have his best team on the floor for that game, with the exception of one player.

Mardy Collins, who actually committed the foul that started the brawl, had only played one minute before the foul occurred. The only player who was inserted late into that game due to the score was Collins, if you’re looking for a reason why, I can only think of one.

With Thomas’s defense of throwing in the towel utterly refuted, I can’t say I blame Karl for keeping his starters in through most of the fourth quarter. He’s absolutely right when he says his team has blown leads, they lost half of one in that game. Even so, with less than ninety seconds left, a nineteen point game is secure. He’s under no obligation to take his players out, however. And he can run up the score as much as he sees fit. If Isiah Thomas doesn’t like he can do himself a favor and go get a better basketball team.

The only real blame to be laid on Karl is for lacking some common sense. There’s nothing wrong with him keeping his players in, and in no way does it represent anything unsportsmanlike, it does however leave the door open for things like this. In a blow out game, things can get ugly; that’s been demonstrated repeatedly. If you look back at the Pistons-Pacers brawl, that fight also started late in a game that was already decided. Fights like this don’t break out in the first quarter or in the fourth quarter of a close game, they come when both teams are physically and mentally fatigued, and the issue of who’s going to win the game has already been decided.

It is unfair to think that a coach would have to remove his players from a game to prevent them from being involved in a physical altercation, but that is the reality of the NBA today and Karl’s mistake should serve as a lesson to other NBA coaches. If you’re expecting a handshake from your opponents at the end of the game, you may end up with a sucker punch instead, especially if that team is coached by Isiah Thomas.

The one thing I didn’t want to do was try to cast blame on any specific individuals in an incident that should have blame evenly spread out, because there’s enough to go around.

But sitting, here, checking out that video again, of Thomas warning Carmelo not to go in the paint, I can’t help but shake my head. Not simply because of what was done, but because for Isiah it wasn’t the first time he’s done something like this and it won’t be the last.

Guys like Carmelo Anthony, J.R Smith, Nate Robinson, and Jarred Jefferies haven’t been involved in anything like this before, and I hope they never are again. Most people would say they’re all pretty nice guys. But that’s not the case with Isiah Thomas.

For a man who seems to place so much emphasis on ‘prior history’ David Stern seemed to ignore that of Isiah’s in deciding whether or not the Knick’s coach should be punished for his actions in Saturday’s game. Stern seemed to conveniently forget the history of Isiah Thomas as a player and coach that I assure is very much relevant. The one that shows him as petty, a sore loser, an easily anger individual, and someone who has no inhibitions when it comes to running his mouth and making threats.

Not even one month ago I wrote about an issue involving Thomas and Spurs’ forward Bruce Bowen, as many people did. After expressing his displeasure over Bowen’s defensive tactics, Thomas told his players that next time Bowen tried to stick his foot underneath them after they shoot, to "break his fucking foot." Thomas went so far as to say that if anyone tried that tactic on him that he would "fucking murder them."

You can’t ignore things like that. You and I as fans can’t ignore it, I as a writer certainly can’t ignore it, and the Commissioner of the NBA can’t merely turn away from the fact that an NBA coach has shown a history of threatening opposing players.

Isiah Thomas is a bully with no class. The NBA has failed to address his problem and that can only serve to embolden him further. Somebody needs to stop this guy; something needs to be done, before somebody really gets hurt.