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A fan's real-time diary of the Isiah Thomas/James Dolan HBO nightmare

You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

"Two minutes in hell is a lifetime," John Constantine said. By that math, Tuesday night's HBO Real Sports Bryant Gumbel interview with James Dolan and Isiah Thomas was 750 years of damnable doublethink and hubris so unprecedentedly monstrous it needs a new word: bizarrity.

Below, one survivor's account...

10:03 PM

Gumbel: "With apologies to Felix and Oscar, the guys who make up sports' foremost odd couple are named Isiah Thomas and James Dolan...that they are together again just eight years after their expensive involvement in a sexual harassment lawsuit is one of the great surprises in all of sports."

Phrasing what Thomas and Dolan did as "expensive involvement in a sexual harassment lawsuit" is like saying Bernie Madoff had an expensive involvement in a shell game. Thomas and Dolan were convicted of the sexual harassment and wrongful termination of Anucha Brown Sanders in 2006 (officially, the guilty party was Madison Square Garden, a semantic Thomas parrots to maintain *he* was never found guilty). The case against the delusional duo was so damning the jury awarded Sanders more than she asked for (Bill Simmons' primer from '06 is worth your time). There was a lot of bluster about appealing the verdict, but in the end Les Innocents settled with Sanders for $11.5 million.

Yo MSG: long as you're paying people you say you haven't wronged millions, how about flinging some green my way? Them student loans ain't gonna pay themselves. And I sat through 17-65. And 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. I've been wronged! Estimating conservatively, calculating all punitive damagers with compounded interest, you owe me one Knicks.


Gumbel: "[A NY Liberty playoff game at MSG's] about the last place one would expect to find basketball royalty."

Isiah Thomas is not royalty. This term gets thrown around way too lazily. You know how many people on this planet are technically royalty? Hell, Derrick Williams was a King six months ago. Plus, this is America, son. We may do oligarchies, but we don't do royalty. So what we have is more of a basketball president and his cabinet. Michael Jordan's president. Kareem's secretary of the interior. Bill Russell's secretary of the treasury. Kobe's Speaker of the House. When those guys have meetings, Isiah isn't in the room.

Gumbel: "Can you live without basketball?"
Isiah: "I don't want to try."

That's pretty much addict logic.

Isiah: "I'm addicted. I love it."

[Mike Breen voice: BANG!]

Gumbel: "How many times does it have to slap you down and say it doesn't love you as much as you love it?"
Isiah: "Oh, no no no, no no no. You, you wrong. You wrong about that. The pluses have far outweighed the minuses."

Side-eye. We really doing this?

ISIAH BASKETBALL PLUSES (totals) = playing career

ISIAH BASKETBALL MINUSES (toals) = quitting as Raptors GM reportedly after being denied a greater stake in ownership...buying the half-century old CBA and promptly killing it (twice)...coaching the Pacers for three years without winning a single playoff series (sound familiar?)...catalyzing the Nate Robinson/Denver Nuggets fight in 2006, leading to the Carmelo Anthony/Mardy Collins sucker-punch, putting Anthony's hand and future trade to NY in prenatal danger...the entirety of his tenure as GM/coach of the Knicks (best not bring this up. Sometimes, dead's better.)...coaching Florida International University to a 26-65 mark over three years, then calling his firing "the most surprising thing that has happened to me in basketball"...or, expressed as a graph:


Isiah on what went wrong when he ran the Knicks:

Isiah: "The chemistry was just bad."
Gumbel: "A critic would say you're the chemist. You put these guys together."
Isiah: "My job was to try to energize the building, try to energize the fan base."

Yes...BY WINNING. Isiah's actually disassociating from himself here! In consecutive sentences! Sure, Zeke! It's not like the GM/coach has anything to do with chemistry. That wasn't your job. Your job was to energize.


Dolan on why he didn't settle with Sanders, earlier, for less money, when he had the chance:

"My fault...I actually believed the truth. The fire in me came out."

Raise your hand if you've ever longed to see the fire in James Dolan come out.


Isiah on how he feels when asked about the Sanders conviction:

"I felt like there was a drive-by and somebody just took a razor and sliced me...and I just couldn't stop bleeding...I still bleed. I still feel sick to my stomach that I have to sit here and..."

He never finished his sentence. That last ellipsis matters. It was the first moment I have ever believed Isiah Thomas was telling the truth. There were no words for what he wanted to say, because there are no words for what he wanted to say.


Dolan and Gumble on the negative response to hiring Thomas to run the New York Liberty:

Dolan: "I understood that there would be some people would be unhappy."
Gumbel: "I think that may be the understatement of the interview."

I think that may be the understatement of understatements.

Gumbel: "A couple of the headlines: 'the worst decision of James Dolan's career."
Dolan: (chuckles) "What do you want me to say about it?" (chuckles)
Gumbel: "That would seem to me much worse than you imagined, no?"
Dolan: "Yeah. Yeah, it's worse than I imagined."

"Yeah. Yeah, it's worse than I imagined." Your Dolan era epitaph!


Dolan and Gumbel on why he brought back the man who ruined the Knicks, stained the franchise's image, and cost him millions (in lawsuits and criminally insane player contracts!):

Dolan: "There's something inside of both of us that's really quite similar. The tenacity, the stubbornness...Isiah's a guy who doesn't believe in his limitations. And I'm a guy who doesn't believe in his. I...think I've always understood him."
Gumbel: "He's often misunderstood. You think you are?"
Dolan: "Yeah."

...maybe instead of channeling your inner misunderstoodedness on the Knicks, go write a blues album or something.

Gumbel disappointed here, claiming the scrutiny Dolan's inspired is because of fans who fear him "caring more" about his blues band than the Knicks, as if anyone wants more involvement on his part, as if Quiet Jim's the one we're afraid of. Quiet Jim's only scary because that means Volcano Jim's building up to something.
Gumbel said Isiah and Dolan's "shared scrutiny has forged an unlikely bond between two men who on the surface couldn't seem more different: one white, one black; one born rich, the other born poor." Dude. It's 2015. Brian's Song was 44 years ago; there's been a remake and a Family Guy episode since then. Contemporize, man! #staywoke


Dolan on why he risked public backlash bringing Thomas to run the Liberty:

"I didn't think I would get a better person to do that job than him. He would draw attention to the team."

After the first sentence, my heart actually went out to Dolan. He sounded like the nerdy well-rounded girl in the teen comedy ensemble movie early in the movie, when she's underestimating herself and has yet to realize she's critically hawt by virtue of her glasses coming off and her hair coming down. But then we're back to the carnival mentality these men share. "He would draw attention to the team." Any publicity's good publicity, especially for the Liberty, whom Dolan called a "never-ending pit of money that just keeps going out the door."


Thomas and Dolan on whether he'd ever return to run the Knicks:

Isiah: "I can comfortably tell you this: I don't see myself ever coaching the New York Knicks."
Dolan: "I don't think that the NY market would ever give him a fair chance at this, and I can't imagine...what would make it worthwhile to try and get one."

"I can comfortably tell you this" = "I can comfortably lie to you because it won't cost $11 million"
"I don't see myself ever coaching the New York Knicks" = "Phil Jackson is the middle reliever. When it's closing time, Dolan's bringing me in"
"I can't imagine what would make it worthwhile" = "3...2...1..."


Gumbel: "How do you explain [returning to work at the Garden}?"
Isiah: "My mom used to say, 'The Lord works in mysterious ways.'"

The devil is ever God's ape.