NEW YORK -- Isiah Thomas didn't wait for his day in court to
start defending himself against a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Ignoring legal advice to keep quiet, the New York Knicks
president spoke publicly Wednesday about the lawsuit brought
against him by a recently fired team executive who said he engaged
in "demeaning and repulsive behavior" that team executives
refused to address.
The suit was filed in federal court Tuesday by Anucha Browne
Sanders, the Knicks' former senior vice president of marketing and
business operations, and Thomas made clear what he thinks is the
motive behind it.
"I will not allow her or anybody, man or woman, to use me as a
pawn for their financial gain," he said.
Thomas said he was ignoring his lawyers' advice to stay mum.
"It is not their name, it's not their family, it's not their
career and it's not their reputation that's being hurt," he said.
Browne Sanders was fired last Thursday. She said her problems
with Thomas began soon after he was hired in 2003, and decided she
finally had to act when she felt she was being ignored by her
bosses at Madison Square Garden.
"My pleas and complaints about Mr. Thomas' illegal and
offensive actions fell on deaf ears," she said Wednesday at a news
conference at her lawyer's office. "He refused to stop his
demeaning and repulsive behavior and the Garden refused to
Her supervisor, MSG Sports president Steve Mills, joined Thomas
in thinking the suit was financially motivated.
"I am appalled by Anucha Browne Sanders' outrageous
allegations," Mills said. "And I was stunned to learn that while
she was still working for Madison Square Garden, she demanded $6.5
million to leave quietly."
Thomas and Madison Square Garden are listed as the defendants in
the lawsuit, which charges them with sex discrimination and
retaliation. Madison Square Garden said Browne Sanders was fired
because she "failed to fulfill professional responsibilities."
"I was warned that Mr. Thomas and the Garden would launch a
campaign to smear me, and I am not surprised, nor will I be, at any
false and vicious accusations that they may spread about me and my
family," Browne Sanders said. "This is all a diversion. In court,
they will have no choice but to deal with the real issues of my
The 43-year-old former Northwestern basketball star, who
described herself as the Knicks' second-highest ranking executive,
is seeking reinstatement to her job and unspecified damages. She
said she was fired last Thursday "for telling the truth" while
going through internal channels to stop the harassment.
According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in a Manhattan federal
court, Thomas refused to stop making unwanted sexual advances
toward her, used offensive language and turned others in the
organization against her.
Asked about the suggestion that she had demanded the money, one
of her lawyers, Kevin Mintzer said: "How do you put a price on Ms.
Browne Sanders' career? She was the second-highest individual in
the Knicks organizations, and one of the most senior
African-American women in all of professional sports. I don't know
how you put a price on that."
When Browne Sanders sought legal counsel last November, MSG
launched its own investigation but told her to not come to work for
three weeks. She was fired last Thursday when MSG said her claims
couldn't be substantiated.
"They weren't sincerely interested in finding out what
happened, they just wanted to punish her," Mintzer said.
He said a settlement is always a possibility, but if none is
reached, depositions will begin with the intent to go to trial.
Players were quick to support Thomas at a Wednesday morning
"I know Isiah and I know he's an honorable man," Stephon Marbury said. "I know that he's a guy filled with a lot of
character, so I think everyone here is on his side."
The lawsuit also alleges that Thomas told Browne Sanders he was
pushing for more Sunday home games at noon so he could steer
opposing players to clubs where he had connections on Saturday
nights, hoping they would be sluggish the next day.
"These fabricated and outrageous charges come from an
individual whom MSG fired because of an inability to fulfill
professional responsibilities and who is now seeking a financial
windfall," Madison Square Garden attorney Ron Green said in a
The Knicks would not comment further.
"I've known him since I tried to recruit him in high school and
he's a phenomenal human being," coach Larry Brown said of Thomas.
"And the Knicks have always treated me well, so I guess I'll let
it play itself out."
In court documents, Browne Sanders said Thomas often berated her
and made crude comments about her to Knicks officials, telling them
not to listen to any of her directions. Marbury also is accused of
acting in a hostile way toward her as a result.
Browne Sanders said Thomas' behavior soon became sexually
charged, saying he told her he was "very attracted" to her and
"in love" with her and tried to kiss her. She charges that last
month, he hugged and tried to kiss her, and when she pulled away,
he said, "What, I can't get any love from you today?"
Browne Sanders graduated from Northwestern as the Big Ten's
women's career scoring leader and was a two-time conference player
of the year. She was the school's athlete of the decade for the
According to the team's media guide, Browne Sanders is married
with three children, and resides in New Jersey.