Given the myriad ways that the teams we love don’t always love us back, it’s a wonder more sports fans don’t abandon the squads of their youth. A sports organization can have a criminal owner or an economic agenda that involves syphoning millions of dollars in public money, or employ players that are genuinely awful human beings, and we will still irrationally love them. Yet everyone has a line that if crossed, will cause them to say goodbye to the team of their prepubescent heart. I have friends in DC who “bled burgundy and gold” their entire lives, but then quit rooting for the Washington football team when owner Dan Snyder’s boorish, bigoted belligerence became too much to endure. I have friends who were fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers until it seemed that the team cared more about sheltering accused rapist Ben Roethlisberger than the reputation of of its storied uniform. For me, the team I had to tearfully divorce was the New York Knicks.
I loved that team. I was raised with that Knickerbocker blue and orange as a second skin. A Bernard King number-30 jersey was nailed to my wall. I had a poster of The Bomb Squad (Johnny Newman!) I even once head-butted an opposing player as a tribute to John Starks. But in 2007, after over two decades, I turned in my Knicks fan card. For me, my own line was crossed when a jury awarded $11.6 million to Knicks Vice President Anucha Browne Sanders in a sexual harassment lawsuit. The highest-ranking woman executive in men’s sports, Sanders—who was once the greatest basketball player in Northwestern University history—had convinced a a jury that team president and NBA legend Isiah Thomas and Knicks owner James Dolan had created a workplace so toxic, that she simply couldn’t do her job. Dolan was then judged to have fired Sanders for the crime of complaining about Thomas’s abusive words and inappropriate touching.
Thomas in his trial testimony, infamously said, “A white male calling a black female a bitch is highly offensive. That would have violated my code of conduct.” But a black man calling a black woman a “bitch,” would bother him “not as much. I’m sorry to say, I do make a distinction.” Dolan matched Isiah’s awfulness. In videotaped testimony, after hemming and hawing, he was pushed to finally admit that it was wrong to call a woman a “black bitch.” Then he said with a shrug, “It is also not appropriate to murder anyone. I don’t know that that happened, either.”
My disgust with James Dolan was total. The awful decision-making and terrible on-court escapades certainly didn’t help, but it was about how he could run a franchise where sexual harassment was not only ignored but accepted. I was done.
Today all of this history was dredged to the surface when James Dolan announced that he was bringing his friend Isiah Thomas back into the fold as president and part owner of the WNBA’s New York Liberty. Most people’s jaws hit the floor. How the hell could Dolan do this? Why would Isiah say yes? Did they really think the 2007 trial wouldn’t gurgle to the surface and used as yet another sign of Dolan’s irredeemable awfulness?