Isiah Thomas won’t return to the New York Knicks as a consultant amid questions about whether his appointment would violate National Basketball Association rules because he is a college basketball coach.
Thomas, who was fired as president and coach of the Knicks in 2008, said in a statement posted on the NBA’s website that he will focus on his job as coach of Florida International University.
The decision came as NBA Commissioner David Stern was reviewing whether Thomas’s dual roles were compatible with league rules.
“After speaking with commissioner Stern and Knicks executives, it has become apparent that my new agreement violates certain NBA bylaws,” Thomas said in the statement released by the NBA. “Because of this, I have decided to rescind my contract with the team.”
Thomas was hired Aug. 6 as a consultant to the Knicks. He became the coach at Florida International University in April 2009, and said when he was rehired by the Knicks that he would remain in the college job.
The Knicks’ announcement that Thomas was returning while retaining his college coaching position drew criticism from Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the national champion Duke University Blue Devils and the Olympic-champion U.S. men’s basketball team.
Krzyzewski, who is preparing the U.S. team for the world championships in Turkey beginning this month, told reporters yesterday he wouldn’t accept such a consultant position with an NBA team while coaching in college.
“I should be perceived to have an advantage in whatever way over another college coach,” Krzyzewski said, according to the New York Times.
He added that he didn’t feel there was anything ethically wrong with it, though the two positions are probably best kept separate.
Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse University coach and U.S. team assistant, said Thomas’s hiring poses a potential conflict of interest. Boeheim said he frequently gets visits from representatives of pro teams seeking information about Syracuse players, and having ties to one NBA franchise would make it difficult to help his players with other clubs.
Thomas, 49, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame who played 13 years with the Detroit Pistons. He was hired this time by the Knicks to “assist the team’s senior management in various capacities, including player recruitment,” the team said on Aug. 6.
No Winning Season
New York never had a winning season in the four years Thomas was in control of the team, including the final two in which he was also its coach. He was relieved of his duties as team president in April 2008 and fired as coach later that month after the team went 23-59 to tie a franchise mark for losses in a season.
“One of the biggest regrets of my life is that the Knicks didn’t perform up to the standards the fans had every right to expect while I was in charge,” Thomas said in the statement released last night. “I take full responsibility for that.”
His tenure also was marked by his involvement in a sexual-harassment lawsuit by a team executive, which resulted in an $11.5 million settlement, according to the Associated Press.
Thomas was replaced by Donnie Walsh as president and Mike D’Antoni as coach. The Knicks went 32-50 the following season and 29-53 in 2009-10 as they shed salary cap space to make an attempt to sign free agent LeBron James and other top players this summer.
Thomas was asked to be part of the group that tried to convince James to join the Knicks. James instead chose the Miami Heat, though free-agent All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire did opt to move to New York from the Phoenix Suns. Walsh thanked Thomas at Stoudemire’s introductory news conference.