GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Isiah Thomas knew there would be questions when it was announced two weeks ago that he would be the new president of the New York Liberty. Thomas hopes that people will just keep an open mind.
“We were concerned, and we talked about it,” he said in a news conference Thursday at the WNBA team’s training camp. “At the end of the day you can only live your truth.”
Thomas had an unsuccessful stint as coach and president of the New York Knicks from December 2003 to April 2008. After being fired as coach, he remained with the team in an unspecified role, even after a lawsuit brought by former team employee Anucha Browne Sanders cost Madison Square Garden $11.5 million in a settlement. Sanders alleged she was sexually harassed by Thomas, who was not found personally liable.
“I’ve always maintained my innocence, moved on from that. Our organization has moved on from that,” Thomas said. “I’m proud of the way I lived my life.”
Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan gave Thomas another chance now as the president and potential part-owner of the Liberty. Thomas and Dolan had a meeting with the players before training camp opened Sunday.
“It was necessary to do that because we live in a society where the information that’s out there, some’s accurate, some’s not accurate,” Thomas said. “We felt it was necessary to meet, discuss and have an open forum. The players we have and the people in this room, they’re grown women and they can make up their own minds and come to their own conclusions.”
Coach Bill Laimbeer, who played with Thomas for years in Detroit, and the Liberty players sat on couches off to the side during the 25-minute news conference. At the end, the players applauded their new president.
“It was great having that sit-down the other day to clear the air. We are all professionals and are focused on what happens on the court,” said Liberty guard Essence Carson. “All the interaction I’ve had with him so far has been good.”
A Hall of Fame, championship-winning point guard with the Pistons, Thomas has failed to match that success in his post-playing career. He tried college coaching after leaving the Knicks but was fired by Florida International in 2012 after going 26-65 in three seasons.
Thomas spoke Thursday at a podium in a makeshift area normally used as a players lounge. Laimbeer joked earlier that more media were in attendance then in his first few years combined with the team. He and Thomas hoped that all the attention on the team would carry over to when the Liberty season starts at home on June 5.
However, some fans won’t be attending games at Madison Square Garden. Yolanda Jackson, a Liberty season-ticket holder since 1999, said she canceled her subscription.
“I’m not planning to attend any Liberty games,” said Jackson, who works in marketing with female athletes. “And since I’m so disappointed in the way the WNBA has handled this situation, I doubt if I’ll be attending any games this season. The WNBA should deny his application for ownership.”
Thomas filed the paperwork to be a part-owner of the team last week. He needs approval from the league’s board of governors for his ownership application to go through. WNBA President Laurel J. Richie told The Associated Press last week that she hopes to have that resolved before the season starts June 5.
Thomas wouldn’t talk about his ownership petition.
“That’s a confidential discussion,” he said.
AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy in New York contributed to this report.
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