Posted: Thursday February 9, 2006 2:57PM; Updated: Thursday February 9, 2006 6:09PM
Unfortunately for Knicks fans, Isiah Thomas' fundamentals for success have been ignored by Thomas and his team in equal measure.
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Before Isiah Thomas was the subject of a federal sexual harassment lawsuit, he was a popular biography subject. His improbable rise from hardscrabble beginnings on Chicago's West Side to the Naismith Hall of Fame would provide the narrative thrust for a handful of best-selling novels.
But it wasn't until Thomas achieved acclaim as the first black owner of a professional sports league (the CBA) and, later, as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, that he'd feel comfortable delivering his personal testimony himself. Thomas wrote The Fundamentals: 8 Steps for Succeeding in the Games of Business and Life, publishedin 2002 with former Chicago Tribune national correspondent Wes Smith.
Like most self-help authors, Thomas is a much better theorist than practitioner, submitting noble ideas he lives out half-heartedly. Still, Thomas' four decades-long career in basketball stands as an impressive body of work: He won an NCAA championship in his second year at Indiana, a pair of NBA titles during a 13-year run with the Detroit Pistons, and 53 percent of his games in his three seasons as head coach of the Pacers. Thomas owes his abundant success, he says, to eight tenets (or "plays") that have guided his life since childhood. And like most of the plays Thomas would call in his brief sideline stint, these, too, rarely play out as they're drawn up.
In the first of Thomas's eight fundamentals -- "dreams are doorways" -- he submits that success must first be visualized before it can be achieved. He credits a tightly-knit family unit, led by his mother Mary (also known as Dear), for nurturing his big dreams into reality. Dear and his father (also named Isiah) patterned that familial structure, he wrote, after the Kennedys, striving to recreate their own Camelot in the heart of the ghetto among drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes.
But along with that closeness came a sense of entitlement that would rub many of Thomas' contemporaries the wrong way. "I'll never forget the first time a classmate accused me of arrogance," he wrote. "I was shocked. I went home and asked my mother if it was true. My sister laughed when she heard me. 'Of course we're arrogant,' she said. 'Dear wired it into our personalities.'"
While the label is one that clearly makes Thomas is clearly uncomfortable, it is not without merit. When Thomas famously froze Michael Jordan out of the 1985 All-Star Game, it was an act that reeked of highhandedness. Seven years later, when Thomas led the Pistons into the locker room without shaking hands with the Bulls, who had swept Detroit from the playoffs en route to the first of six championships, Thomas again succumbed to his arrogance.
Still, Thomas can't understand why he is perceived as anything but earnest. He reserved a harsh critique in his book for writers, many of whom never seem at a loss for words to describe his Cheshire Cat grin. One magazine profile (not SI's), he noted, mentioned his smile 14 times, alternately describing it as sourceless, then curious, then charged "by something fierce and implacable." Wrote Thomas: "It's enough to make a guy want to have his jaw wired shut."