If Isiah Thomas Were White (or a Celtic)

https://i0.wp.com/www.usaweekend.com/98_issues/980426/images/larry_bird.jpgThe image “https://i1.wp.com/news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/199906/24_khoom_mchale/images/mchale.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.nbp.org/nbp/images/handson/danfreethrow.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Bird, McHale and Ainge – The Teflon Trinity

I’m sure glad my good friend and colleague Harvey Araton of The New York Times brought this out in the open before I did. Had I done so, those among you who holla, “Roy, everything’s not about race,” would’ve no doubt popped a vein. But I’ve been pondering for awhile now the disparity in coverage of the tenures of Knicks president/coach Isiah Thomas and his peers, Minnesota VP/Basketball Operations Kevin McHale, Boston GM Danny Ainge and Indiana GM/icon Larry Bird.


Thomas is roundly and regularly skewered in New York for the Knicks poor performance under his aegis. (Full disclosure: I’m a season ticket holder and have not been a very happy paying that monthly nut for awhile now.) Much of the criticism is more than justified (Jarome James = $30 million???), and he’s certainly not above examination and criticism. It comes with his role(s), and his lack of significant success off the court in prior jobs does not give him a lot a credibility to stand upon.

But at the same time, his former on-court foes seem to be showered in Teflon. McHale’s been in his current role for 12 years, which coincides with 12-year career of one of the most talented players of this generation, Kevin Garnett. In that time, the Timberwolves went seven straight seasons without getting out of the first round of the playoffs before doing so in 2004. But they haven’t reached the playoffs since. Last month, McHale fired coach Dwane Casey even though the team was 20-20 in the tough Western Conference.

Ainge’s Celtics are young and without their only star, the injured Paul Pierce. They’re also in the midst of a franchise-record losing streak (16 and counting) and haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2002-03. Ainge dismantled a team that reached the second-round of the playoffs that season with some questionable trades that cost him a respected coach (Jim O’Brien) and most Boston fans. Their only hope lies in Pierce’s recovery and the lottery which could reap either Ohio State center Greg Oden or Texas forward Kevin Durrant, two freshman who may choose to turn pro after this season – and two big men reminiscent of Patrick Ewing and the late Len Bias.

Then there’s Bird. His first move upon arriving in Indiana in 2002 was to fire Thomas, his head coach at the time, and replace him with Rick Carlisle. The newbie won 61 games and took the Pacers to the NBA Finals in his first season (Araton says Thomas wasn’t given a thread of credit for his role in putting that team together) but has been a middling nudge-above-.500 coach. Moreover, has any franchise been a bigger embarrassment to the game regarding off-court (and in-stands) behavior oevr the last three seasons? Between the infamous Malice and the Palace, former Pacer Stephen Jackson’s fun-totin’ imitation of Pistol Pete outside an Indy strip club earlier this season and the alleged punch-up between Pacers Jamall Tinsley and Marquis Daniels and a saloon manager, you’d think sleepy Indiana was the Wild, Wild (Mid)West.

Again, Thomas is not above scrutiny. Some of his trades and free-agent signings have been questionable and his one can easily question his handling of the three previous coaches that worked under him.

Some might cast the disparate nature of the criticisms at the notebooks of New York’s ravenous media. Not me. Reporters in other cities are (or should) be just as skeptical and diligent has their brethren in other cities. And maybe because I live in New York, I’m not as privy to the local vibes as I am those that reverberate here each day. Still, I’ve been wondering for awhile if there’s any other reason McHale, Ainge and Bird are dancing while their former on-court nemesis is being beat up in the alley out back.

Like I said, I’ve just been wondering. I’m glad Harvey Araton has, too.

The image “https://i2.wp.com/espn.go.com/i/page2/photos/060628/isiah_janet.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

This, I could not resist…


30 thoughts on “If Isiah Thomas Were White (or a Celtic)

  1. LMAO @ the Janet and Isiah photo!! I’m still not happy over the firing of Larry Brown. I’m not an Isaih Thomas fan at all so whatever he’s going through means nothing to me. Coaching is an up and down profession so I guess this all comes with the territory.

  2. Ah, Kevin McHale. The worst GM in the league, next to Danny Ainge. While I’m not the biggest Isaih fan, mainly stemming from the fact that he spells his name wrong, he is getting a bit of a hacking in the media. He’s done a pretty good job compared to Larry Brown, and I think he’s about ten or twelve games better than Brown.

  3. Richard Garth says:

    re: the contrast with Indy and Minnesota, I think the most obvious reason is that New York is is a much larger market and media center, so everthing gets magnified and hyped up. It seems like NY(the people and the press) always has high expectations, so they’re always quick to proclaim good to be the best and bad to be the worst.
    I’m not sure how to account for Ainge’s free ride in Boston. There could be a halo effect from the team’s better days(of course Isaih never played for the Knicks), but he does have that “earnest white mormon” image going for him.

  4. Juan says:

    Black GMs were allowed to stay at the helm too long in DC (Unseld) and LAC (Elgin BAylor) and they hardly got the grief Thomasdid nationally.

    Sure, Baylor was exec of the year last year and was hamstrung by a cheap owner. However, he made some HORRIBLE draft picks continuously in th mid to late 90s.

    Unseld’s moves were horrible as well. Mitch Richmond for Chris Webber. Cmon Wes!

    I agree that Thomas gets abused, with the reasons Richard stated above (biggest media market, all that)

    McHale does gets abused in MPS-SP papers (The Casey firing was met with lots of questions of who really should be on the chopping block as Casey had a bad team playing well for their talent level.)

    I think Celtic fans are apathetic at this point. They’ve been bad ans snakebitten for so long. The Rick Pitino era made them ready to handle anything.

  5. Boston Dan says:

    New York media types are obsessed with Boston at this point.

    It’s fucking pathetic. I guess there’s nothing of note going on in Manhattan.

  6. shane says:

    The Celtics won the Atlantic 2 seasons ago, their first division title in over 10 years. Sure, this season has been rough, but any team would be in a bad position if their 2 best scorers (in this case, Pierce and Wally) were banged up. The Heat, even *with* Wade, are struggling to keep the 8 spot after having Shaq out. The Celtics were a possible 6 seed at best, so to lose their 2 best players for extended periods is obviously going to kill them. 17 losses in a row is inexcusable, of course, but to blame this season on Ainge is short-sighted. In Ainge’s entire tenure, there’s really only one indefensible move, and that’s the Scalabrine contract. Everything else was done for a reason (even the Telfair deal got Raef LaFrentz’s awful contract off the books). Meanwhile, all Isiah has done is muddle a bad situation even further with his bad signings (you pointed out James, for one) and bad trades (Nazr Mohammad for Malik Rose?), not to mention acquiring a bunch of players with similar, if not identical, skill sets (Marbury, Francis, Crawford, Robinson). McHale you’ve got an argument, but to compare Ainge to Thomas just can’t be done. If Thomas did in Boston what he’s done in New York, he’d have been gone a LONG time ago.

  7. Charles says:

    Bostonians are a sad, pity-inducing tribe. Akin to midgets.

  8. Mike says:

    Ainge has had some fantastic draft picks, Jefferson at 15, West and Allen at 24-25, Green at 18, Ryan Gomes at 50, Rondo at 21, even Kendrick Perkins at 27. His only real miss was Marcus Banks.

    The cap situation he was left with made it impossible to make trades or be active in the free agent market. He hasn’t been able to do much there. Signing Scals was obviously bad, Blount was even worse. I didn’t like the Telfair deal, but at least it got rid of Lafrentz. The trades he has made have just removed bad players/contracts and replaced them with equally bad players/contracts.

    I actually think Ainge has done a good job considering the pile of crap he was left with.

    We knew this was going to take a while, and unfortunately, it’s taking as long as we thought it was going to.

    A healthy Pierce and Wally, continued development of Green, Jefferson, West, Gomes, Rondo, and a Oden/Durant draft and this team is contending tin the East next year.

  9. Tom says:

    I think it’s important to note that the Knicks have the highest payroll in the NBA (and that’s all due to Thomas). Granted, they play in NYC so they probably should have the highest payroll (like the Yankees) but they still aren’t getting squat from their team.

  10. Charles says:

    There is absolutely nothing “fantastic” about those draft picks. I would agree that Ainge was able to get good value with the gomes and west picks. But the rest are pedestrian.

  11. jh says:

    Huh? McHale & Ainge coated with Teflon? No way, both guys have gotten their fair share of abuse & rightfully so. Plus, how can you not point out the obvious factor that Isiah works in NYC. I don’t know about you, but I remember a very white Scott Layden getting his butt reamed just as much as Isiah, if not more.

    Now you might have a slight point with Bird being given a pass by the media. But then again, two promising Pacers’ seasons were exploded by one crazy dude & think of all the other injuries this team has had to endure the last few years on top of that. Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league, and in 04-05 & 05-06 he did a great job when he was severely shorthanded.

    Not sure why you’re surprised that Bird gets handled so well, while Isiah usually gets pounded by the press. Bird gets leeway because for the most part, he is a classy guy, while Isiah is one of the biggest phonies to ever play pro sports. Not to mention ruined an entire sports league, the CBA, which should never be forgiven. And I am not even a Celts fan & think Isiah is not a half-bad GM.

  12. Kevin McHale is now pretty much a disaster in MN, and everybody in MN knows it, criticizes him for it, and wants him gone. He doesn’t get the national criticism that Thomas does, but that could be just because he’s out in the frozen tundra that most of the country doesn’t care about, not running one of the sport’s premier franchises. In Minnesota, fans despise him and columnists and commentators take their shots at him. You may be right that race plays a factor (I’m always willing to consider it possible), but I think the failure of national commentators to look closely outside of big market franchises, as well as the willingness of national commentators to jump on an easy storyline and target, probably plays a bigger role.

    Basically, most fans and reporters in Minnesota are asking the same question you are: why is McHale still running things? For some reason, Glen Taylor is sticking with him like Ford sticks with Millen.

  13. jte87 says:

    I agree with everything Charles said about Bostonians.

  14. mydigest says:

    The title should read: “if Isiaah Thomas were white, or a Celt”. Yes, the noun for a person of the Celtic tribe is ‘Celt’. It is, of course, pronounced ‘kelt’.

    Actually, although anyone from, or with roots in, Scotland, Ireland, Wales or Cornwall (presently a county of England but with an independence movement!) is likely, at any moment, especially any drunken moment, to start romanticising about being a Celt.

    Really, however, the Celts, who were conquered and occupied by the Romans in England and Wales, were completely subsumed as were the other British tribes. In the Celtic fringe, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, the Celts do not survive at all, any more than do the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Vikings or Norman-French-Vikings.

    The English-speaking people are a complete mixture of all of the immigrants, mostly pink (as I prefer to say, rather than white) and are now adding cafe-au-lait to their mix.

    As to games where a ball is propelled around a field for the entertainment of a watching crowd, with acclamation for a person who successfully impels the ball within the defines of a wooden frame, oh, well, I know nothing about that. I always hated it at school.

    Cheers, Cy Quick at mydigest.wordpress.com

  15. extrapolater says:

    I think I would have fired McHale after that absurd Joe Smith debacle.

  16. Rob says:

    New York Knicks payroll = $139 million
    Indiana Pacers payroll = $70 million
    Millwaukee Bucks payroll = $64 million
    Boston Celtics payroll = $62 million

    You could pay the entire Phx Suns payroll with the difference between the Knicks and the Pacers. Not that the the rest don’t suck, they just do it with less money.

  17. 800lbgorilla says:

    Absolutely dead on. Good post.

  18. perkisabeast says:

    If Isaih Thomas were white he’d be just another unemployed GM….

  19. perkisabeast says:

    This topic is stupid, don’t you remember the skewering poor Frank Layden got? If anything Thomas has been given a free ride for way too long by both Indiana and New York..The man is half and idiot savant, he has a passion for sucking, and a knack for wasting money. I love how he gets credit for a team that is still ten games over .500. What a joke. And oh yeah. Boston hates you all back too.

  20. blueollie says:

    Well, to be fair, New York is probably the roughest media market. Thomas stepped into the frying pan, so to speak.

  21. wyclefdoug says:

    Apparently my original comment was deleted or something, but let me restate myself in nicer terms. I hate Isiah Thomas, everything he gets, he deserves. Karma is a bitch, and so is he.

  22. Charles says:

    Clef- By “everything he gets” do you mean fame and fortune? Or are you referring to the last laugh that the cowardly piling on by fools like you have all but assured him?

  23. Juan says:

    I think what Clef might mean or at least might, in part mean is being forced to settle a sexual harrasment lawsuit with a former female exec of the team. That is what is coming to him.

  24. wyclefdoug says:

    Or missing out on playing with the Dream Team. He got what he deserved. All he had to do was shake Jordan’s hand like a man after he got axed from the playoffs, or not called for a Jordan freeze during the all-star game. All that shit caught up with him didn’t it? Like I said, Karma is a bitch.

  25. Juan says:

    McHale, Ainge, and Bird have never asked to our knowledge that

    1) his team break Bruce Bowen’s foot
    2) injure guys in games at the end of already-decided games who have audacity to score

    I. Thomas has.

    Did I mention he is facing a serious civil lawsuit?

    Kobe pulled the same , not shaking hands crap at the end of the Suns-Lakers 1st round playoff series last year. I don’t get that behavior.

  26. Daryl says:

    From Dave Checketts, to Al Bianchi, to Scott Layden, The New York Knicks were plundered long before Isaiah Thomas took the helm. They cannot get a quality player in the draft, because all of their draft choices have been dealt away since the Checketts regime. Lenny Wilkins efforts were futile, and so was Larry Brown. Coaches may be great, and of hall of fame stature, but you still need the PLAYERS to win. There is no coach or GM available that can improve the Knicks in its present state.

  27. Bad Becks says:

    Ok, give Bird, McHale etc Thomas’ “payroll from hell” in New York and see how they do. This is a garbage roster with no cap relief that Zeke himself assembled. Its his mess to clean up… “if you shit the bed, then you must lay in it.”

  28. Ant says:

    Way to turn what is a fiscal issue into a racial one. Black or white, Isiah Thomas is an idiot. He bankrupted the CBA and if the Knicks didn’t play in MSG, he would bankrupt them too. Poster: understand that this isn’t about race. Some GMs just suck. A lot of them just so happen to be white (McHale, Mullin, Ainge).
    And your claim that he inherited the payroll from hell? How many of these payrolls from hell did he bring in himself? Starbury, Frances, Rose, and that unbelievably stupid Eddie Curry deal. (So far he’s given up Ty Thomas in that deal…)
    Black or white some people just suck at managing money or seeing the big picture.

  29. Coltsfan says:

    I would just to clarify a couple of points made by Roy.

    Larry Bird came to the Pacers in 1997 (as Head Coach) not 2002.
    He then retired after the 2000 season in which he led the Pacers to the NBA Finals.
    They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games. Wins – 160, Losses – 77

    Isiah Thomas was the Head Coach in 2001-2003. Wins – 131, Losses – 115
    Larry Bird then came back to the Pacers in July, 2003 as the President of Basketball Operations. One of his first acts was to fire Isiah Thomas and install his former assistant coach Rick Carlisle (his recommendation for Head Coach to GM Walsh in 2001).

    In Rick’s first year as coach he took the Pacers to a 61-21 record (the best in the NBA that year). Wins-146, Losses-100.

    Let’s also not forget who was responsible for the Malice in the Palace… Ron Artest.
    Isiah Thomas traded for Ron Artest…another testimonial to his lack of ability to make intelligent player personnel choices.

    My point is that Larry Bird contributed to the success of the Pacers as a Head Coach.
    Then made a valid decision to replace Thomas with Carlisle in 2003.

    I will admit that since the Debacle in Detroit, the Pacers have spiraled downward on the court as well as off the court. It will proabably take a lucky lottery pick, and major personnel changes in order to recover. Some of those personnel changes may very well be in the front office and coaching positions.

    I miss the days of Reggie Miller. Now there is the man that made the Pacers a good and classy team.

    In closing I would like to say “GO COLTS !!!”

  30. maryam says:

    Isiah Thomas, the head coach of Indiana in 2002 traded for Ron Artest?
    This is why you can’t take the word of ignorant white haters because they will lie on balcks just to deny what whites have done.
    Donnie Walsh, the 2002 Pacers GM, traded Jalen Rose, Travis Best and some scrub guard for Ron Artest, Brad Miller and Ron Mercer.
    Amazing how idiots say dumb things.

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