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A paragon of contradictions (cont.)

Posted: Thursday February 9, 2006 2:57PM; Updated: Thursday February 9, 2006 6:09PM
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Thomas smiles through much of the contradictory advice he offers in his book, and no point is seemingly more antithetical to the way he has lived his life than his call for goals to be "measured from the root." His ultimate goal, he wrote, was to own an NBA franchise. To his credit, he achieved that faster than any other former NBA player when he was named part owner and general manager of the Toronto Raptors in '94, the same year in which he retired from the league. Just as quickly, though, he left the position for a reported $1 million a year payday at NBC.

Thomas' trouble staying the course would eventually topple an entire league. After a middling career as a basketball analyst, he purchased the Continental Basketball Association in 2000 for $10 million. In his book, Thomas lauds the move as a watershed moment in black history.

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"I purchased the CBA for my wife and children, my mother and sisters and brothers, the people I grew up with who never made it out of the West Side, and for all the black folks who dream of better things for themselves and their children and grandchildren," wrote  the only African-American to ever own a majority stake in a major pro sports league.

That supposed obligation to race receded in fewer than 18 months, as Thomas' business ambitions took a back seat to his basketball jones. ("I'd grown to miss being directly involved in the ebb and flow of the game that I have loved since I was old enough to pick up a ball," he wrote.)

When Larry Bird resigned as head coach of the Pacers, Thomas was tapped to succeed him. This created a natural conflict of interest, as NBA coaches are prohibited from coaching in one league while claiming ownership in another (especially a competitor). "They [the NBA] forced me to put the CBA into a blind trust until a buyer could be found," he wrote. "I was not allowed to participate in its management after that."

When no deal to sell the CBA's nine teams could be put together, the 55-year-old league folded under the weight of more than $5 million worth of debt.

In the sixth and perhaps most seminal of his eight fundamentals, Thomas underscores the importance of "living with values." His loyalty to his family is a theme he touches on repeatedly. Its importance was often reinforced by his mother through the use of toothpicks. (She'd challenge her nine children to break one alone, then nine bunched together to illustrate their strength in numbers.) "'As long as you stay together, nobody can break you down,'" Thomas quotes his mother as saying.

Thomas would seem to heed Dear's lesson. His considerable wealth and success hasn't put any apparent distance between him and his family, nor is he wont to apologize for family members who, over the years, have joined gangs, struggled with drug addiction and run afoul of the law.

He also demonstrated himself to be a doting husband and father to two kids, honored as recently as two years ago at a national father of the year luncheon in Manhattan along with joint chiefs chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers, seven-time Winston Cup champion Richard Petty, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and jazz educator Ellis Marsalis.

Last month, the New York Post revealed that Thomas had fathered a son with another woman while engaged to his current wife, Lynn. Thomas' son, Marc Edward Thomas Dones, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and celebrated his 20th birthday on Feb. 6, told the Post  that he has left messages to get in touch with his father on multiple occasions, but has yet to ever speak with him.

"I rang because, you know, I'm turning 20," Dones said. "I think I deserve two words from him -- 'hi' and 'goodbye,' something like that."

Dones, who has deferred plans to attend college until the fall, hopes to one day become a writer himself and publish a memoir. Here's hoping his rings a little truer than his dad's.


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