Too Zeke to Fail: A Brief History of Isiah Thomas’s Crashes and Burns
Isiah Thomas was fired Friday as coach at Florida International University. Here’s what Zeke had to say about his departure from Miami’s first and only four-year public research university:
“This is the most surprising thing that has happened to me in basketball. I never been fired before for basketball reasons. This is the first time. When I was in Toronto, I was trying to buy a team and I left. When I was in Indiana, Larry Bird told me that he liked what I was doing but he was closer to Rick Carlisle. The whole thing in New York was crazy. This is the first time someone told me that I was being fired for basketball reasons.”
When it comes to failure, I get a little nostalgic. So I decided to track back and relive some of the greatest hits (but the opposite of hits) of Isiah Thomas’s executive and coaching career.
- Thomas’s first stop in his post-Pistons life was Toronto, where he was a GM with an eye toward an increased ownership stake. He drafted Damon Stoudamire and Tracy McGrady. Not bad. Then this happened: He hired and fired his friend Brendan Malone and got pissed when Raptors brass reportedly blocked a trade for Shawn Kemp. When he failed to acquire more of an ownership stake, Thomas bounced, saying, “I’m just a person. I’m not a corporation.”
- “Basically, you become a brand … Isiah is a brand. It’s a brand that’s accepted internationally. But what the brand really [represents] is credibility, trust, loyalty. Now, if you can put a credible business behind that …” That’s Isiah Thomas speaking to Sports Illustrated after he bought the Continental Basketball Association for $10 million. Some highlights from his tenure include cutting the average player salaries, turning down an initial offer from the NBA to buy the league (the NBA wanted to build its developmental league around the existing CBA), deciding to go to the Pacers as a coach, selling the league to the NBA Players Association because you can’t be the coach of the Pacers and be the owner of another league because real life doesn’t work like that, signing a blind trust “crippling” the CBA, and watching it dissolve into bankruptcy.
- In 2000, Thomas inherited a championship-caliber Pacers team. He then led them to three consecutive first-round defeats in the playoffs.
- Isiah became president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks in 2003 and — deep breath … actually, just read Simmons on this. Yeah, the whole thing in New York was crazy.
- In 2009, Thomas took the FIU job and said he was going to donate his first year of salary back to the school because he “did not come [to Florida International] for the money.” This was probably because he had a side hustle with the Knicks lined up, which he had to back out of because it was against NBA rules. Then he led FIU to a 26-65 record over three seasons.
Jobs Isiah Thomas will now be linked to (and might even get) include: director of the CDC, general manager of southern New Jersey Pep Boys franchises, head coach of the Lake Oneonta YMCA 13- to 15-year-old boys team, South Pacific Area commander for the United States Navy, Starfleet Academy admissions officer, and head coach of the New York Knicks.
Thomas says FIU was the first time he was fired for basketball reasons. But when you work in basketball, isn’t it always for basketball reasons?