More than twenty years ago, John Feinstein wrote A Season on the Brink, which told the saga of Bob Knight, the legendary basketball coach at Indiana University.
In Open Court: A Year With the New York Knicks, John J. Buro recounts one particular forgettable season in the life of Isiah Thomas -Knight’s point guard on the 1981 championship team-, who was now both the general manager and head coach of this storied franchise.
The year is 2006. Larry Brown has just walked away from his dream job after fulfilling one year of a five-year deal, and Thomas is instructed by James Dolan, the Cablevision scion and team owner, to replace ‘Downtown’ Brown.
Predictably, the season goes south, as Thomas follows Brown’s 59 losses with a 33-49 record. Then, amazingly, the organization sinks even deeper when Dolan and Thomas are named co-defendants in Anucha Browne Sanders’ sexual harassment lawsuit.
The season, itself, wasn’t about any one thing that went wrong. It was, clearly, a group effort.
Stephon Marbury, who was earlier brought back to New York in a trade which would subsequently cost New York its top pick in the 2010 Draft, did not fulfill expectations. But, neither did many other players, who pocketed multi-million dollar contracts for token appearances.
The Knicks won 19 of 41 games at Madison Square Garden, and 14 of 41 elsewhere.
Thomas had misread the value of many players, and had put the Knicks in position to fail -even in the stunted Eastern Conference. The coach was regularly crucified in print and, after one particular loss, Thomas’ post-game conference began so quickly, only one radio reporter was present.
Unlike the sexual harassment trial, which was played out for 12 ‘juror days’ in front of a packed courtroom.
Thomas’ latest defeat was met more with disdain than Sanders’ victory was with approval. Fans had hoped this was the final straw, and that Thomas would soon be exiled.
They’d have to wait one more season for that wish to come true.