Posted by Sekou Smith
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We understand that the natural reaction of many people to the name Isiah Thomas is a pained look usually followed by some unflattering comments about his work as an NBA executive and coach.
Long before “The Decision” and the crazy free agent summer of 2010, Thomas held the top spot as the scourge of the basketball earth, the one guy whose name alone opened the flood gates of negativity for fans, particularly in New York.
(And you can save the conflict of interest bit, because there are all sorts of college/pro/grassroots/shoe company conflicts that no one says a word about so long as the folks involved are in the good graces of the powers that be!)
But what if there is another side to this story?
While the league decides if this dual set up as the coach of Florida International and special consultant to the Knicks passes the smell test, the venerable William C. Rhoden of the New York Times explores the possibilities while detailing all of the facts, good and bad, after catching up with Thomas over the weekend:
Why? Why keep at it?
Thomas maintains a home in New York and lives in Miami during the school year to coach F.I.U.
“I love basketball,” Thomas said. “You know how kids say they love the game? I’m for real about it. I love it. These are the things that make me happy: I like to ride my bike. Every now and then, I go swimming. And I love basketball. Those are my three passions.”
Thomas spoke enthusiastically about his recruiting class at F.I.U. and about the challenges of coaching, nurturing and mentoring still-forming 19- and 20-year-olds.
At a time when he was being cast as the scourge of the Knicks, Thomas received his greatest endorsement, from the parent of a potential recruit. Doris Ward’s son is Josiah Turner, a guard from Sacramento rated among the top high school players in the Class of 2011.
A year ago, when Turner was generally being ignored, Thomas told anyone who would listen that Turner was a potential pro. Going into his senior year, Turner is being recruited by most of the nation’s top programs.
“Isiah saw Josiah before the rest of them jumped on board this year,” Ward said Sunday during a phone interview. “He never strayed either way. Whether Josiah played great or he had an off-day, he’s always said he’s going to be a great player.”
She added: “He saw stuff in Josiah that now everyone else sees it a year later, but he saw it a year earlier. I have to respect him for that because he’s never wavered.”
His critics have never wavered either.
There probably is no way to repair the damage done between Thomas and Knicks fans. The best chance floated away to South Beach the minute LeBron James decided to join the star-studded cast Pat Riley assembled in Miami.
There’s always the summer of 2011 and the chance that a certain special consultant could help the Knicks land their next superstar piece (Carmelo Anthony still hasn’t signed that contract extension in Denver).
That said, we won’t spend too much time daydreaming about some happy ending to this Thomas-Knicks story.
But it’s hard to shake the words of Doris Ward, the mother of the high school recruit.
There’s always another side to the story.