View Full Version : Isiah The Business"man"

02-05-2006, 10:56 AM
Menace behind the smile
Sunday, February 5th, 2006

They were so over-the-top, so strange and abusive, that Diane Bosshard used to gather her staff into her office just so they could hear the rants for themselves. Isiah Thomas would be on the other end of the conference calls, threatening and screaming at the general managers of the Continental Basketball Association.

"I wasn't supposed to let them listen, but I just had to have someone hear this," she says.

Thomas, who bought the league in 1999 and said he was going to turn it into a "Microsoft for basketball," would curse and threaten to "kick asses" if the teams from Sioux Falls, La Crosse, Boise and other small cities didn't see things his way.

"He ruled with intimidation," says Bosshard, who owned the La Crosse (Wis.) Bobcats with her husband Bill before selling to Thomas. "It was just like, 'If I swear enough or if I act like I'm tough enough you're going to back down.'"

In her brief time with Thomas, Bosshard says she never saw anything similar to the sexual harassment allegations made in former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders' recently filed lawsuit. But the part about Thomas' temper and choice of words? That hit home, she says.

"When you hear (allegedly) this was said and this was done, I had a lot of compassion for her," Bosshard says of Browne Sanders. "The tone of what was said, the words that were used... it was very familiar."

In the lawsuit, Sanders says, "Contrary to Thomas' carefully cultivated public persona, he is capable of 'abhorrent behavior in private,'" and several former CBA officials say they saw such behavior during Thomas' 18 months in charge of the league.

"Just the rudest person that I have ever run into in my entire life," says Rich Coffey, the former GM of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Fury and now the owner of the Fort Wayne Freedom in the Arena Football League. "He's a very poor business person. He doesn't listen to people. He's always right. He makes poor decisions, and I'm talking about the CBA in particular.

"Who he listens to are people who tell him what he wants to hear. The fact that he's still in basketball and running the Knicks just astounds me."

In his short tenure as the owner of the CBA, Thomas had hoped to build it into a massive enterprise that might serve as an official minor league to the NBA. Instead, he lost between $5 and $7 million, made very few friends and ran a 55-year-old league into bankruptcy just as he left to become the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Most of the old owners and a few new ones bought the league out of Chapter 7 and revived it.

"The (CBA) owners got their money back, but then there are the employees, the players and the fans who are season ticket holders who got nothing. I worked three or four months without pay after I had worked (with the Fury) for 10 years," says Coffey, a father of four. "You had the Sioux Falls, Boise and Fort Wayne franchises subsidizing the other (six) teams. They had to put up about $700,000. When I bought the Freedom four years ago, the first thing I said at a press conference with fans was, 'Isiah Thomas is not involved.'"
There were cheers from the crowd.

That Thomas now runs the show at the world's most famous arena is mind-boggling to the people he crossed paths with during the CBA debacle.
"I shook my head when I saw (that the Knicks had hired Thomas as their president). I thought, 'Geez. Maybe he can coach. We certainly know he can play - he's got a good basketball mind. But why would somebody not check into his business references?'" says Bill Ilett, the owner of the Idaho Stampede.
Bill Bosshard had the same reaction.

"Ownership egos are unbelievable. They want to rub bellies with sports guys, Isiah and these guys. They don't bother to check a guy's background. They look at the foreground, and the foreground's a guy's name and a smile," he says. "It's amazing how enthralled these guys can be - whether here or in Indiana or in New York, it's all the same."

Brendan Suhr, brought in by Thomas as the current Knicks' director of player personnel, was the CBA's director of basketball operations during Thomas's ownership tenure and has a different take. He says he doesn't understand why people like Ilett and Coffey are critical of Thomas.

"He's a piece of cake to deal with," Suhr says of Thomas. "We ran a very good business. And the New York Knicks are one of the great franchises in professional sports.

"I think the way we're running the business - we're not proud of our won/loss record - but I'll tell you what, our business record is very strong. What leaders do, they define reality every day and then they create hope and optimism for the people that work for them. That's what (Isiah) did (with the CBA)."

When Thomas first approached the nine CBA clubs about selling, several readily agreed and thought his name and contacts could make the league a gold mine. Under his proposal they would sell control but retain some ownership, with the promise of big paydays in the future. A few held out, however, saying they didn't think Thomas had a sufficient plan to run the league.

When the Bosshards finally sold, Diane stayed on as general manager, the only owner to do so. Former Celtic Dennis Johnson was then the team's coach, and Bosshard says he warned her and her husband that Thomas was "not the person you want to go into business with."

Johnson, now coaching the NBA's developmental league team in Austin, Tex., didn't directly answer when asked whether he recalled saying that. "Inside their dealings (with Isiah), I don't know," he told the Daily News. "All my business dealings with him have been court-wise."

Diane Bosshard says she was charmed by the Thomas she first met. "There's an Isiah in front of cameras, and another behind closed doors. It really blew me away," she says. "Very handsome, well-spoken, three-piece suit, the smile, the (Thomas) that says 'everything's great because if I'm going to put my name on it there's no problem whatsoever, trust me and we're in this together.'

"We went from the very well-spoken Isiah to the Chicago Isiah that kind of got the lingo going and every other word was a swear word, and 'This is how it's going to be.' I thought, 'Oh my god...' I don't think we have as many f-words and swear words here."

Bosshard spoke to an issue that several CBA executives mentioned, a culture clash between an African-American celebrity raised on the rough streets of Chicago and the white, small-town residents he encountered.

But the real problem, Diane Bosshard says, was that Thomas never had a business plan to speak of, which made his business style untenable. "(The owners) wanted to see a business plan. He was so mad about them not trusting him. He was going on and on about how this is all built on trust, cursing every other word," she says. "It wasn't like we were going to say, 'Okay, you win because you swore more than everybody else.'"

Ilett says Thomas did give them a plan, but there wasn't much to it.
"Did I look at an 80-page business plan? No. Did I look at an executive outline the way it was going to go? Yes," he says. "(Thomas') original thought was not to change very much, but to expand it tremendously."

Almost as soon as the changes were made, the league ran into trouble. Thomas hired marketing experts at $30,000 a month and paid Gallup $400,000 to do a survey on the CBA's management practices. League executives were astonished.
Coffey says he asked how Thomas could afford to expand the league's budget by $2.3 million and was told he would make it up from national sales (which never materialized).

"A few of us said, 'Hey, this isn't going to work.' To which his answer was, 'It is going to work and if you don't like it, quit.' Or 'I'll fire you,'" Coffey says.
Ilett says he and Thomas might have gotten off to a bad start because Ilett was one of the owners not eager to sell, but whatever the cause he soon found out Thomas was not all smiles.

"He tends to do business just like he played basketball," he says. "He's very clever and cunning and friendly until the rubber hits the road. And then he can really bow his back up and get pretty ornery and hard to get along with when he doesn't get his way. It would go from us being best friends to him calling me a little bit ethnic-related names."

Several CBA owners say they saw a competitive streak in Thomas that was relentless, making it impossible for him to compromise or listen to other opinions.

"He came to Boise when we were turning the ownership over to him. We did it at a Boys and Girls Club, which he is a former member of," Ilett says. "After the press conference, he met with some children. He was giving the old owl-eye smile that Isiah is good at when answering questions, and one little girl in the back of the room put up her hand and said, 'Isiah, why didn't you bring Michael Jordan with you?' Immediately, I could see his whole personality change and he actually went cold shoulder to the whole situation and finished it up and wandered out of there."

Current and former owners still can't believe Thomas turned down an offer to sell the league to the NBA for reportedly $2 million more than he paid.

"He bought (CBA) for like, $10 or $11 million. He then went to a Wall Street firm and decided he wanted to do an IPO and told (David) Stern he could buy it back, but it would be $30 million," Coffey recalls. "Stern said, 'Hell, I'll start my own league.'"

When the national sponsorships failed to materialize and the league ran out of
revenue, Thomas accepted the job with the Pacers, put the league in a blind trust, sent a fax to the clubs that the league had ceased operations, and was gone, leaving more than $4 million in debts.

And as hard as it was to see their league fold, Diane Bosshard says, "You almost took some pride in the whole thing failing because you really didn't want to see it succeed with what was going on in the background."

The worst part, she says, was dealing with business owners and season-ticket holders in La Crosse who felt abandoned.

Adds her husband Bill, "And then he reappears at the Garden. It was amazing to me. And the world goes 'round."

02-05-2006, 11:26 AM
A match made in hell

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

DETROIT - Let's spread the blame all around today with the Knicks, distribute it about a hundred times better than the Knicks distribute the ball. Let's give Isiah Thomas his fair share and give Larry Brown his fair share.

Let's talk about how this so-called youth movement of Isiah's only became a last resort after all the other player movement of his first two seasons with the Knicks. Let's talk about all of Brown's starting lineups, a world's record of them, and the lack of effort from any Knicks' lineup. Talk about all that today as the Knicks are well on their way to the worst record in the league, which might mean the first pick in the draft if Isiah hadn't traded that pick - not lottery protected - for Allstate Eddy Curry, he of those real good hands.

Now Isiah goes out, even as he talks about his three-year kiddie rebuilding plan with the Knicks, and gets 33-year-old Jalen Rose for big change. Another new old Knick, then, as opposed to the new young Knicks from last summer. He has been after Rose for a while and there is no question that Rose will help the currently pathetic Knicks in the short run. So Isiah wanted Rose. Larry Brown says he wanted Rose.

And we get a first-round draft pick along with Rose. Maybe it gets the Knicks as good a player as they would have gotten for Eddy Curry.

Isiah thinks he and Brown can work together. Brown still thinks he and Isiah can work together to get this thing worked out, even as the Knicks are sitting right there now for the worst record in the NBA.

They are not going to be able to work together, unless Isiah's next trick is to pull Kevin Garnett out of his hat. You can already see it after a half-season, and barring some kind of miracle trade nothing is going to change. James Dolan doesn't know that yet, because he is a little slow out of the chutes when it comes to basketball matters, and has no real counsel around him. But eventually Dolan is going to have to choose. One vision for the Knicks, one voice. Or before long we are going to be talking about Neil Smith and Mike Keenan.

Put me down as one who thought this partnership would work, from the time it became a possibility last summer. It won't.

For two years, Isiah has been stockpiling players as if he were going to coach them. There has been only one vision of the team, and it has been his. Nobody tells him anything at the Garden, not Dolan, not Steve Mills (Isiah was Mills' idea), not anybody. You know why I think Isiah tangled with Anucha Browne Sanders originally? Because she wasn't one of his hires. She didn't automatically start nodding her head when he started talking. His way or the highway.

One of these days, and soon, he hits the road or Brown hits the road. Even Dolan will figure that out eventually. Even though his management style is usually this: He doesn't have one.

I've known Isiah since he played for Bob Knight at Indiana. We talked a lot when he was going to Toronto. He has generously supported charities with which I have been involved. I've rooted for him since he got to New York. But now we are more than two years into this and here is the bottom line: the bottom has fallen out of everything.

Go right ahead and think the Knicks could be a handful of games better than they are right now. But how much better? And where are they going with this group? And what won't Isiah do now to hold on to his job?

It would be one thing if he had started a youth movement from the start. He didn't. He was that wonderful line from "Chicago": Give 'em the old razzle dazzle. He just moved everybody and spent more than the previous regime. He is always talking about how Channing Frye and Eddy Curry - neither of whom is a sure thing - are supposed to buy him two years more, or three.

Knick fans must wonder if they are looking at a real plan here or the NBA version of Isiah's CBA plan.

Dolan has a Hall of Fame player with no success as an executive. He has a Hall of Fame coach. He is going to kid himself that they can work together because we all wanted them to work together. They can't.

02-05-2006, 03:19 PM
Thomas has destroyed the CBA and has been nothing shy of embarassing for the Knicks.

He should be fired immediately and neve allowed back in an NBA job.