posted: Jan. 18, 2006  |  Feedback

We were finally able to obtain an audio copy of Isiah Thomas's interview with Stephen A. Smith on 1050-AM in New York, which confirmed all the reports from various readers on Monday afternoon. In the interest of accuracy, we're running it at the end of this post.

I went through all my columns and couldn't find one excerpt where I attacked his character -- I only judged him from the way he played on the court and the way he's coached and run basketball teams, and every comment was made for a reason. For instance, I once called him "an incredibly poor sport." Well, he was. This is the guy who convinced the 1991 Pistons to walk off the court before the Bulls swept them in the Eastern Finals. I once called him "spiteful and manipulative" -- if you don't believe me, read up on how MJ was frozen out of the 1985 All-Star Game, or the details behind the Dantley-Aguirre trade, or how he was bumped off the original Dream Team strictly for personal reasons, even though he was clearly one of the best 10 players in the league. I once called him a "cheapshot artist" -- well, he was. That's the way he played. By the way, John Stockton was just as dirty.

You know what else I found as I searched these old columns? I have written that Isiah was the best pure point guard of all-time. I have written that he's a surprisingly astute judge of talent when he's drafting players. I have written that I would take him over Magic on my All-Time NBA Team. I have written that he got completely boned over when the Dream Team Committee left him off. I have written that his performance in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals was one of the greatest and most heroic in NBA history. And I even wrote about how the Pistons got screwed in Game 7 of the 1988 Finals when the Lakers and their fans started storming the court with three seconds left, then Magic clearly fouled Isiah as he was dribbling to get off a game-tying three (and absolute outrage if you watch the tape).

The bottom line is Isiah is a lousy coach and an even worse GM -- maybe one of the three of four worst GM's ever, actually. He's an out-and-out apocalypse for the Knicks. With their current roster, cap problems and remaining draft picks, it would be impossible for them to become a 50-win team in the next 5 years unless A.) someone signs there for half their market value, or B.) someone in the league is dumb enough to make the equivalent of Rob Babcock's Vince Carter trade again. I thought about writing a column about this, but frankly, it wouldn't be that interesting. The Knicks are screwed.

Two more notes on the transcript ...

• I think we can all agree that Isiah was dreadful as a studio analyst and broadcaster for NBC. No shame in that -- tons of great ex-players couldn't make the transition. But in the interview, it seems like Isiah feels like he WAS good, only he just didn't get a fair chance. Or something. I didn't even fully understand the point he was making. Which makes me think he's somewhat delusional. And if he thinks Knicks fans are happy with the direction of this team -- with the exception of the 2005 draft picks and the Larry Brown signing -- he's fooling himself. Trust me, I received about 800 e-mails from yesterday, almost all from angry Knicks fans who wish he would go away ... with about exactly 12 defending him.

• As for Stephen A. pretending not to know me, I thought this was interesting since one of his producers asked me to fly to New York and appear as a featured guest on his TV show in September.

Here's the transcript ...

SAS: "Isiah Thomas, you as an executive, one of the few African-American executive[s] in the world of sports, I mean, obviously there's a few of them in basketball, but compared to other sports, I mean, basketball looks like a haven for African-American executives and we know there's not that many. How much do you feel, when you think about being [in] an executive position ... how much do you feel the paucity or the small number of African-American sports editors influences coverage where somebody like you or Joe Dumars or Billy King is concerned? Your thoughts."

Isiah: "Well, those ... you know, we ... we kind of say those are the silent assassins. Those are the guys that, you know, can hide out, and, you know, they make all the edits and everything else and they shape your image."

SAS: "You're talking about copy editors, editors, people like that, yes."

Isiah: "They shape the images of what people read and think and say about you. And regardless of what you may say in the interview or how you may present yourself, at the end of the day it's really judged by what they show on television and what they write in the newspapers, and the producers and the editors and everything else behind the scenes control that. And I really found that out when I worked in television. You can take a guy on television and make him look as good as you want him to or make him look as bad as you want him to, and it really depends a lot on how that producer feels that day about that person ... That's true (laughing)."

SAS: "Wow. Yeah, because you use to work with NBC, during the NBA on [NBC] before you went to Indiana."

Isiah: "Well not only did I work with NBC, but I also did some work with TNT also. I mean, it's just ... you know, the images that are portrayed and what is written in the newspaper, again, they can say anything and take shots at you personally. You know, you don't mind people critiquing your basketball play. And I've heard you say this on your show, Stephen A., you'll call guys out about their ability but you don't ever get into personal attacks."

SAS: "Never."

Isiah: "Because that's when you cross the line and most athletes can understand that. But when you've got little guys, you know, sitting behind the desk, you know 5 feet 2 and you never get a chance to see them and they take shots at your character and what you are as a man. If somebody would say those things to you on the street, and would walk up to you and just start saying that to any person in the street ... "

SAS: "We know what would happen."

Isiah: "Oh, there'd be a problem. And I'm gonna tell you, if I see this guy Bill Simmons, oh it's gonna be a problem with me and him."

SAS: "Who? Well, I don't (laughing) ... I don't know that (laughing) ... I'll figure it out. I'll figure it out. Stephen A. Smith ... I got you."

Isiah (at same time): "It's gonna be a problem ... "

SAS: "Stephen A. Smith in the house, 1050 ESPN Radio, we're with Jim Brown, Oscar Robertson, and Isiah Thomas. We're gonna be back in a minute. Isiah Thomas has got to go at the top of the hour because he's got to go and talk to Larry Brown before the Knicks play the Minnesota Timberwolves. But Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson will be staying with us to take your phone calls.

January 2006