Thomas Takes Stand to Confront Accuser
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; 8:47 PM
NEW YORK -- Smiling New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas climbed onto the witness stand Tuesday, charming a federal jury and recalling his storied basketball career as he defended himself against sex discrimination charges brought by a fired team executive.
As he described his past, Thomas elicited smiles from jurors in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he has been vilified by former Madison Square Garden vice president Anucha Browne Sanders and portrayed as mostly competent and professional by defense witnesses who preceded him.
His testimony came soon after MSG Chairman James Dolan told jurors he fired Browne Sanders upon learning she tried to get her subordinates to help build her case against Thomas.
Thomas, 46, said Browne Sanders greeted him with a hug and kiss his first day as president of basketball operations in December 2003 but then almost immediately "did something that I didn't think was too cool."
He said she told his subordinate to put the weekly budget meeting Browne Sanders hosted on his schedule after Thomas had told her he was not sure he could attend.
Later on, he said, Browne Sanders insisted he check with her before making trades because she was responsible for all profit and loss in the Knicks budget. Thomas said he believed he was responsible for the Knicks team budget, including player salaries.
"I really couldn't figure out what I was supposed to be doing with Anucha," Thomas testified. "I really didn't know how she fit."
Thomas recalled using a profanity as he asked Browne Sanders, the team's vice president of marketing and business operations, a rhetorical question.
In Browne Sanders' $10 million lawsuit, the former Northwestern basketball star says Thomas routinely used vulgar language in his first year and later made unwanted sexual advances toward her. She seeks reinstatement to a job that paid as much as $260,000 annually.
Much has been made at the trial about the early 2004 arrival to the Knicks of guard Stephon Marbury, a trade Thomas testified was part of his promise "to breathe life back into the franchise" with exciting players and more discipline and structure on the team.
Thomas said he told Browne Sanders that Marbury could have as many passes to his first game as he wanted, especially because he had a large family and had not told the Knicks which family members were most important.
Marbury testified earlier in the trial that Browne Sanders made it seem that it would be difficult for him to get as many passes as he wanted for relatives.
Browne Sanders was hired by the Knicks in late 2000 and was fired in January 2006, months after complaining to MSG management that she was mistreated by Thomas, a basketball Hall of Famer.
Earlier Tuesday, Dolan testified another company executive told him Browne Sanders tampered with an internal investigation by trying to persuade subordinates to support her.
He said he was also told before the firing that she was demanding $6 million not to lodge a harassment complaint.
The interference, he said, "would certainly have been grounds for a dismissal" but wasn't the only reason.
"She was not capable of performing her duties and was not going to become capable of performing her duties," he said, describing her failure to adequately prepare financial information.