James Dolan's reign of terror as chairman of Madison Square Garden has been marked by petty, vindictive, volatile, stubborn, dictatorial, impulsive and paranoid behavior. Now we can add one more adjective to the list: hateful.
Two weeks ago, Scott O’Neil became the latest talented executive to leave the Knicks organization when he unexpectedly resigned as President of Madison Square Garden Sports. Though O’Neil did not provide a reason, according to the Sports Business Journal, sources indicated that he had been feuding with Dolan.
Several media outlets, including the New York Post, reported that Dolan had lunch with his good friend Isiah Thomas three days later, which led to speculation that Thomas could be returning to the team he ran into the ground not long ago.
Thomas has not accepted a formal position with the team, though Isola has said that, according to a source close to Thomas, the former Knicks executive has discussed returning to the team with Dolan on numerous occasions. According to Isola, there is a position waiting for him and it is Isiah who is reluctant to return.
While it is not surprising that Dolan wants to re-hire Thomas—he considers Isiah a good friend and attempted to hire him as an adviser in 2010—his motive is disconcerting. The Knicks' owner knows there is no greater lightning rod for discontent among Knicks fans than Isiah Thomas.
Dolan initially hired Isiah as the Knicks President of Basketball Operations in December 2003 and added head coach to his duties in June 2006. During his four-and-a-half seasons running the club, they had the highest payroll and compiled the second-worst record in the league.
Thomas's historically bad personnel decisions, including dealing several valuable assets for Stephon Marbury, trading two unprotected first round picks—which turned out to be high lottery picks—for Eddy Curry and signing Jerome James and Jared Jeffries to contracts far in excess of their market value, turned the Knicks into the laughing stock of the NBA.
In December 2006, Thomas instigated a massive brawl between the Knicks and the Denver Nuggets. He warned Nuggets players about running up the score moments before Knicks reserve guard Mardy Collins horse-collared Nuggets guard J.R. Smith. The following season, Thomas and Marbury got into an argument on a team plane after the former told the latter he would not be starting.
In 2006, former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders sued Thomas, the Knicks and Madison Square Garden for sexual harassment. Instead of settling the case out of court, Dolan and Thomas went to trial, creating additional negative press for the organization. Thomas memorably testified about the difference between a black man and a white man using the word "bitch." The jury ruled in favor of Sanders.
The Knicks fanbase was humiliated and furious. Their frustration and anger led to an unprecedented outpouring of disgust towards a New York athlete or coach.
During the 2007-2008 season, chants of "Fire Isiah" echoed throughout the Madison Square Garden crowd. New websites devoted to Thomas's ouster popped up and fans organized various petitions, marches and protests intended to send him packing.
It appeared that Dolan finally got the message in April 2008. Isiah was fired.
But Thomas's personnel moves haunted the Knicks for years to come. It took two more years and some nifty wheeling and dealing by his replacement, Donnie Walsh, to free the Knicks from the salary cap quagmire Thomas had created.
Isiah's failure as an executive is not limited to the Knicks. A few years after he purchased the Continental Basketball Association in 1998, the league was bankrupt. Last April, he was fired as head coach of Florida International University after amassing a 26-65 record over three seasons with the school.
Given Isiah's track record, Dolan cannot possibly believe that re-hiring the Hall of Fame point guard would be a wise basketball decision. Even if it were, the Knicks owner knows how furious it will make the Knicks fans. There are countless basketball executives the mere mention of whose name will not infuriate the fanbase.
That leads to only one conclusion: James Dolan wants to antagonize the fanbase.
Dolan is the spoiled rich kid of the founder of Cablevision. He is a bully, accustomed to having people kiss his backside and always getting his way. When people refuse to bow to his authority he lashes out.
Former President of Madison Square Garden Network Mike McCarthy quit his job in 2005 after the chairman of the Garden reportedly flipped out because he was not pleased with the projected broadcast numbers for the New York Rangers.
Dolan refused to renew Marv Albert's contract after the legendary broadcaster was critical of the Knicks on the air.
When the Knicks' owner believed that fan-favorite Jeremy Lin was deceitful in his dealings with the team, he reportedly punished the point guard by not matching his offer sheet from the Houston Rockets.
So when Knicks fans expressed their discontent with his friend Isiah, it seems Dolan took it as a personal affront. Like any bully, he hates the people who stand up to him.
The ego-maniacal owner of Madison Square Garden wants Knicks fans to suffer, and he knows that nothing causes them more pain than Isiah Thomas.