Isiah Thomas to deny culpability to WNBA board over '07 case

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Isiah Thomas, who on Tuesday was named president and part owner of the New York Liberty, says he will continue to deny culpability for his role in a 2007 sexual harassment case when addressing the issue with the WNBA Board of Governors.

His ownership is pending approval by the league.

"If people want to continue to believe in the falsities, I can't speak to that. I can only speak to the facts," Thomas told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.

In 2007, when Thomas was coaching the New York Knicks, a former team executive alleged that he sexually harassed her. Although Thomas maintained his innocence, a jury found that Madison Square Garden, owner of the team, improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances. The jury also ruled that Anucha Browne Sanders, the former executive, was entitled to $11.6 million in damages from MSG and chairman James Dolan.

In December 2007, MSG and Dolan settled the case with Browne for $11.5 million.

Thomas has continued to maintain his innocence.

"I was not liable or personally held for anything, so the jury found no findings," Thomas told Mike & Mike. "... Anyone who's vetted this has looked at it, and has come out and found, as the jury found there were no findings in terms of Isiah Thomas."

Kevin Mintzer, an attorney who worked for Anucha on the case, called Thomas' claims Wednesday "factually incorrect" because the jury found Thomas to have aided and abetted in creating a hostile work environment. Part of the settlement ($6 million) was awarded because of that environment.

Madison Square Garden issued a release Tuesday questioning Browne Sanders' allegations and expressing support for Thomas.

"We did not believe the allegations then, and we don't believe them now," the statement read. "We feel strongly that Isiah Thomas was held responsible for sordid allegations that were completely unrelated to him, and for which MSG bore responsibility. In fact, when given the opportunity, the jury did not find Isiah liable for punitive damages, confirming he did not act maliciously or in bad faith. We believe Isiah belongs in basketball, and are grateful that he has committed his considerable talent to help the Liberty succeed."

Thomas was asked on Wednesday how he expects fans of the Liberty to reconcile his role as president with his role in the sexual harassment suit.

"I was president of the New York Knicks, I was not the president of Madison Square Garden," Thomas said. "Madison Square Garden is a corporation ... so when the jury had an opportunity to find, they find Madison Square Garden (responsible)."

Thomas added: "The message to the fans of the Liberty (is) come out and enjoy the game. Come out and watch ... There's a great movement that's happening in this country and it's called women's basketball. And people should come and watch it."

Dolan, in an interview with CNBC, believes Thomas will help make that happen.

"The New York Liberty and the WNBA, I don't think it's a big secret; they are not as popular as we need them to be," Dolan said. "They need to, and particularly the Liberty, they need to be a great basketball team and they need to win. So I looked around to see who could give me a winner. And No. 1 on my list, as someone who would do that job, was Isiah Thomas. So I went for it. I did not pay attention to, yes, all of the controversy that I knew would be there. I'm used to living in controversy, so it didn't bother me."

Thomas, the Hall of Fame point guard who served as president of the Knicks for five years, was evasive when asked if he had an interest in returning to the NBA.

"I am interested in basketball, period. You never know where life takes you," Thomas said. "I make no plans. I didn't plan to end up here."

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