SBD/Issue 89/Franchises

Against Legal Advice, Isiah Thomas Addresses Lawsuit

Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas yesterday called a press conference to address the sexual harassment suit filed against him and Madison Square Garden by former Knicks Senior VP/Marketing & Business Operations Anucha Browne Sanders. Thomas read from a prepared statement, “I did not harass Anucha, I did not discriminate against her, I did not fire her, I did not participate in any discussion that led to her being fired. She did not even work for me. I will not allow anybody, man or woman, to use me as a pawn for their financial gain” (NEWSDAY.com, 1/25). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes Thomas was flanked by his lawyers, despite “both having advised him that he should not” publicly discuss the case. MSG President Steve Mills also joined Thomas. While Mills, who was Browne Sanders’ direct supervisor, is not named in the suit, he allegedly “took no action after she complained that Thomas berated her and refused to let Knicks players participate in her marketing initiatives.” Browne Sanders alleges that Mills “warned her that if she continued to press the harassment claims, Thomas would spread a false rumor about her.” Neither Thomas nor Mills took questions (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26).

MORE DETAILS: Knicks G Stephon Marbury is also named in the suit, which states that “his attitude toward [Browne Sanders] mirrored Thomas’ (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). In N.Y., Michael O’Keeffe reports the suit claims that Mills told Browne Sanders in ’04 that MSG Chair James Dolan “wanted her to create jobs” for Hassan Gonsalves and Tasheem Ward, Marbury’s cousins, “even though both men were ‘completely unqualified.’” The suit states, “Gonsalves was ultimately fired by MSG, at Browne Sanders’ urging, because he engaged in repeated and flagrant sexual harassment.” Sources said that Ward “remains employed by the club and is well-liked.” The suit also claims Dolan “ordered” Browne Sanders to hire Vernon Manuel, a “former Dolan landscaper who had dated” Dolan’s daughter. The suit says Manuel “forged his manager’s signature on multiple occasions, stole from the company and acted in a hostile and aggressive manner with many women on the staff” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26).

BROWNE SANDERS: Browne Sanders held a separate press conference earlier in the day and “called the accusations that she was seeking a financial windfall ‘a diversion.’” She also did not take questions. Kevin Mintzer, one of Browne Sanders’ attorneys, said that a settlement “was discussed with the Garden before her departure, but $6.5[M] was an incorrect figure.” He would not reveal the correct figure and said that there “had been no attempt at mediation” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). Browne Sanders: “I know I’m going up against some of the most powerful men in sports. ... And it’s very intimidating, but I know I’m doing the right thing” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). In N.Y., Venezia, Berman & MacIntosh cite a source saying that Browne Sanders “had given indications that she would demand compensation long before she filed suit.” The source said that she told an MSG exec last year that if she left, “With all the things I know, I should get [$6-10M]. ... One thing I know about this place is they always pay” (N.Y. POST, 1/26).

Browne Sanders’ Motive
Questioned By Some
LOOKING FOR A PATTERN: Several female execs who have worked with Thomas “spoke out on his behalf.” Knicks VP/Community Relations & Fan Development Karin Buchholz said, “He has always treated me with dignity and respect.” But Browne Sanders claims that Thomas said to her, “What, I can’t get any love from you today.” Two sources said that the comment “sounds like something he has said to others.” A former co-worker of Thomas: “That rings true to anyone who knows him.” Raptors Senior VP/Communications & Community Development John Lashway said that while Thomas was with the Raptors in the ‘90s, a woman “threatened to go public with claims she had a sexual relationship with him if she wasn’t paid.” But Lashway said investigators “found it was completely unfounded” (N.Y. POST, 1/26). NEWSDAY’s Johnette Howard writes in the four stops Thomas has made since retiring as a player, his “tenure has been conflicted and contentious, marked by a string of blowups and hard feelings. ... For Thomas, controversy has been a pattern — not just an aberration” (NEWSDAY, 1/26).

ARE THOMAS’ DAYS NUMBERED? The N.Y. POST’s George Willis writes the allegation is “an embarrassing stain on Thomas’ tenure with the Knicks and comes at a time when his leadership is being scrutinized. Never has his authority and job security seemed so vulnerable. ... This development only adds to the perception the franchise is becoming dysfunctional and that may prompt owner Jim Dolan to end another clash of personalities” between Thomas and coach Larry Brown (N.Y. POST, 1/26). The N.Y. TIMES’ Harvey Araton: “If Browne Sanders has a well-documented case, it will be a much graver threat to Thomas’s job security than trading for Stephon Marbury, no matter what Mills and [Dolan] say or think now” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/26). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Mitch Lawrence writes while Dolan “might think he has just cause to fire” Thomas, “let’s let the legal process take its course and not rush to judgment. But if her charges prove true, case closed. Isiah must go” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS’ Frank Isola writes the “fact that the organization is standing behind Thomas supports the theory that Dolan has no plans to either fire Thomas or ask for his resignation” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26).

MEDIA MONITOR: Last night’s MSG Network broadcast of Kings-Knicks, with play-by-play announcer Mike Breen and analyst Kenny Smith, did not mention Thomas’ situation. MSG’s “SportsDesk” also did not report on Thomas (THE DAILY). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes sarcastically about the lack of coverage by the net, “Perhaps no one at MSG Network had heard the news, yet. Or maybe Jim Dolan figured that no one outside the Garden had heard about it, yet, and he wanted to keep the lid on it” (N.Y. POST, 1/26).

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