Sexual harassment trial begins vs. Knicks coach

NEW YORK -- The former Knicks executive who filed a $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit against Isiah Thomas was a rising star forced to fend off the NBA great's clumsy advances, her lawyer told a jury Tuesday.

But defense attorney Kathleen Bogas described Anucha Browne Sanders as a liar who made up charges against Thomas to mask her incompetence.

Browne Sanders was "a woman who was fired from her dream job because she dared to complain about sexual harassment by Isiah Thomas," her attorney, Anne Vladeck, said in opening arguments in federal court in Manhattan.

Vladeck accused Thomas, the team's president and coach, of initially abusing Browne Sanders by referring to her as a "ho" before he made "an about-face and repeatedly professed his love for her."

Thomas, a former Detroit Pistons guard who in 1996 was voted one of the NBA's top 50 players of all-time, has acknowledged that in December 2005 he tried to kiss Browne Sanders on the cheek at a Knicks game and asked "No love today?" when she pulled away, according to court papers. But the Knicks coach has disputed her allegations that he asked her to "go off site" with him for private time.

In her opening statement, Bogas told the jury of five men and three women that Thomas never cursed at the plaintiff or propositioned her in any way.

"He emphatically denies he ever used those words to or about Ms. Browne Sanders," the lawyer said.

Bogas described Browne Sanders, a former Northwestern basketball star,
as a physically imposing woman who was savvy enough to navigate the trash-talking world of professional basketball.

"She's a tall woman -- with heels on, taller than Isiah Thomas," she said.

Browne Sanders is seeking reinstatement to her job as senior vice present of marketing and business operations. She has also demanded hefty damages after spending five years with the storied franchise.

The plaintiff contends that despite being showered with raises and bonuses for most of her tenure, the Knicks fired her in January 2006 in retaliation for telling the truth about Thomas.

Madison Square Garden, which owns the team, insists her dismissal came after a series of marketing and budgeting failures and after MSG Chairman James Dolan discovered she had tried to subvert an internal investigation of her harassment claims.

Dolan, also a defendant in the case, decided Browne Sanders "could not be counted on to do her job after that," said MSG lawyer Ronald Green.