Isiah Thomas was named president and given an ownership stake of the WNBA’s New York Liberty on Tuesday, marking his return to Madison Square Garden seven years after the end of his disastrous run as president and coach of the NBA’s New York Knicks.
Thomas went 56-108 in two seasons as the Knicks’ coach from 2006 to 2008, a tenure that also was marked by unsavory accusations by former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders, who sued Thomas and Madison Square Garden for sexual harassment after she was fired. Browne Sanders claimed Thomas verbally abused her and made unwanted advances and said the team fired her after she made the accusations against Thomas.
In October 2007, a Manhattan jury ruled in her favor, agreeing with her allegation that the team “improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances,” the New York Times reported at the time.
It should be noted that the jury could not come to an agreement over whether Thomas himself — and not the team — should pay Browne Sanders for the damages she suffered. Two months after the verdict, the two sides reached an $11.5 million settlement, with the team and not Thomas writing the check.
Thomas has steadfastly denied Browne Sanders’s allegations.
Madison Square Garden CEO James Dolan, described in the New York Post as “an unflinchingly loyal Thomas supporter,” said in a statement released Tuesday that he began discussing the Liberty post with Thomas in the autumn:
Since that time, Isiah has been advising the team, and we are very pleased with the results. He has overseen the strengthening of our coaching staff, with the return of three-time WNBA Champion head coach Bill Laimbeer and the hiring of Herb Williams as assistant coach, as well as our recent free agent signings, draft strategy, trade for Epiphanny Prince and the return of Liberty legend, Teresa Weatherspoon. Now, we’ve agreed that it is time for him to take a lead role with the team as president, and through his ownership interest. He’s an excellent judge of talent, and I’m confident that he will put all of his energy and experience into making the Liberty a perennially competitive and successful team.
Laimbeer was Thomas’s teammate on the Detroit Pistons teams that won back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. The Liberty has gone 26-42 in Laimbeer’s two seasons as coach.