Examining the Twisted Relationship of James Dolan and Isiah Thomas

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Examining the Twisted Relationship of James Dolan and Isiah Thomas
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Lackluster results haven't cooled the relationship between James Dolan and Isiah Thomas.

It's hard to quantify just how odd the relationship between James Dolan and Isiah Thomas is. 

Two men, one a basketball lifer whose career on the court was punctuated by not just winning, but winning in heroic fashion.

Whether it was leading his college team to the NCAA title as a sophomore or leading his NBA team to back-to-back NBA titles, Isiah Thomas was a "winner" from his teenage years into his thirties.

Thomas was one of nine children growing up in Chicago, and in 1996 he was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time.

James Dolan grew up surrounded by wealth and success as the son of the founder of the Cablevision empire he now oversees. Dolan's original passion was music, and while he may have played sports recreationally, he was never known for his basketball skills.

When Dolan was named chairman of Madison Square Garden in 1999, he was all of a sudden placed in charge of not one but three professional sports franchises, and the crown jewel amongst those three is the New York Knicks.

On December 22, 2003, the New York Knicks hired Isiah Thomas as president of basketball operations. Thomas had already established himself as a questionable front office presence.

Thomas had run the expansion Toronto Raptors with mediocre results, and his tenure as owner of the Continental Basketball Association ended with the league filing for bankruptcy shorty after Thomas left the league.

As president of the Knicks, Thomas would be placed under the white-hot scrutiny of the New York media and expose himself to a rabid fanbase that had not seen its team win a title since 1973.

Thomas held the position of team president until April 2, 2008 and was also the Knicks head coach from June 22, 2006 until April 18, 2008.

It was a long, strange trip, and it was highlighted by a series of major misplays by Thomas that left the franchise in a sorry state.

Isiah Thomas explains his thoughts behind the Stephon Marbury trade.

There were bad trades, such as the one that brought Stephon Marbury to New York in January of 2004. There was also the disastrous trade for Eddy Curry, which was made on October 4, 2005. There was also a terrible trade for Steve Francis on February 22, 2006, which bloated the Knicks payroll and further wrecked their chemistry.

When Thomas wasn't making bad trades, he was making questionable draft choices. The worst came in the 2006 draft, when Thomas selected South Carolina guard Renaldo Balkman at No. 20 over future All-Star Rajon Rondo, who was selected No. 21.

Then there was the lawsuit. A sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against the Knicks and Isiah Thomas by employee Anucha Browne Sanders. It was eventually settled for $11.6 million in punitive damages.

Throughout all of these mishaps the Knicks went from bad to worse. Not once under Thomas' control did the Knicks finish above .500, and twice the team won only 23 games.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
James Dolan still views Isiah Thomas as a valuable basketball front-office commodity to this day.

One would think that any link between the two men, Dolan and Thomas, would have been irreparably severed following the split that took place on April 18, 2008, when Thomas was fired as coach.

That's not the case though.

As recently as three weeks ago Thomas and Dolan had lunch together. The possibility exists that the two men discussed Thomas possibly returning to the Knicks in some capacity.

If that seems odd, that's because it is, but James Dolan doesn't care.

In August of 2010 Dolan attempted to bring Thomas back to the Knicks as a paid consultant. The move was blocked by Commissioner David Stern, who stated that Thomas also holding a job as head basketball coach at Florida International University would violate NBA bylaws.

Dolan made this revealing comment when he learned that Thomas would not be allowed to work for the Knicks.

Although I'm disappointed that Isiah will not be working with the Knicks as a consultant, I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent. He's a good friend of mine and of the organization and I will continue to solicit his views. He will always have strong ties to me and the team. We wish him continued success at FIU.

It's tough to understand the bond between Dolan and Thomas, but it does exist, even if it doesn't seem to work in the favor of the New York Knicks.

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