Quick Thoughts

1.    More Isiah: Last week the jury spoke, finding the Knicks, James Dolan, and Isiah Thomas guilty of harassment and retaliatory termination and giving Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 in punitive damages.  Isiah was not found to be guilty in the firing portion of the claim but he and the Garden took a rather big hit.  Browne Sanders is also due compensatory damages (lost earnings, etc.) to be determined by the court.

In the aftermath of the trial, a few questions have been bandied about:

-Why doesn’t the NBA step in and punish the Knicks?

Well there are a lot of reasons.  First off, despite what so many people are saying, the Knicks weren’t found “guilty.”  This was a civil action and though punishment may be appropriate in some instances, the NBA refuses to act on civil verdicts.  There are certainly good reasons to treat such a proceeding very differently than a criminal proceeding.  There are differing burdens of proof (preponderance of the evidence in civil case versus beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases) and civil complaints are not always “illegal” in the penal code sense.

On another level, I’m sure David Stern and company are not happy about the trial and the behavior of Garden employees.  He may be privately peeved but Stern won’t help the Knicks by piling on publicly, particularly where the Knicks have contested the verdict and plan an appeal.  In addition, Stern surely doesn’t want to take actions against the Garden that might invite more sexual harassment suits against the Knicks.  Indeed, a few more suits have already popped up shortly after the Browne Sanders verdict.

Obviously there are a lot conflicting interests here.  In an ideal world, Stern would condemn the Knicks and vow to clean up the Garden but the world is not ideal.  The NBA is a big business and the Knicks are a key asset to the league.  To invite further exposure in lawsuits against the Knicks and more bad publicity just isn’t good business (As a quick note, I recognize that, arguably, a reprimand by the NBA might not be admissible evidence in a later harassment suit but it’s still a pretty risky public statement to make).  Dr. Martha Burk, a leading advocate for women, gave an interesting interview for True Hoop, where she expressed dismay at the NBA’s refusal to publicly treat this case as a moral issue.

But Stern has made some comments on the issue, albeit while he was out in Turkey, which may have made the comments fall under the radar a little bit.  Stern condemned harassment generally, without weighing in on his beliefs of the merits of Browne Sander’s suit: “It’s very troubling, personally.  I’ve known Anucha Browne Sanders going back to her days working with I.B.M., and I’ve known Isiah and his family since his days as a player.”  Stern also noted that the burden of proof is much higher in criminal cases, which makes the findings of fact more definitive.  Moral issues notwithstanding, Stern’s comments are probably as much as one could expect from the commissioner under the circumstances.

Will Isiah be fired?

The verdict is only tangentially related to Isiah’s fate with the Knicks.  There are tons of athletes and persons of importance who have been accused harassment or even convicted of physical abuse against women and most of these accusations/convictions have been forgotten if the accused person was subsequently successful in his job.  If Isiah wins as a coach, most fans just won’t care.  If he loses (which seems quite possible based upon his tenure so far) he should be gone–and that is an assessment one could reasonably make based upon performance, regardless of his office behavior.

Does Anucha have a date with the taxman?

This has little to do with basketball but you do have to wonder if the IRS was paying attention to the case.  It came out in the case that Browne Sanders’ business deductions on several tax returns were apparently without any basis, based upon her own sworn testimony that she had no business of her own during that time yet took at least $200,000 in such deductions in a four-year period (the number was initially $320,000 before she amended her returns recently).  Unless she reached a preemptive settlement with the IRS, it would seem that more meetings are inevitable, just another thing to watch for in the story that never ends.

2.    NBA Europe: Interesting happenings in Europe, where several NBA teams have been touring the continent and playing local squads.  Granted these are early October exhibition games but the Euro squads have been playing NBA teams pretty tough.  Minnesota nipped Efes Pilson and Toronto had a close win over Lootomatica Roma.  Last night, Memphis lost to Unicaja Malaga 102-99.  Unicaja had a pretty balanced attack behind a couple of former NBAers in Daniel Santiago (14 pts, 10 rebs) and Marcus Haislip (18 pts, 11 rebs).

It’s not clear how much, if any, weight these games should be given.  Still, it’s interesting to see how the data is forming as we get more and more NBA/Euro games.  It’ll take some time to absorb this data but on a larger level it’s clear that the NBA is pushing more and more of such games.  From 1999-2002, the NBA and FIBA had no official games against each other.  That has since changed.  Here’s how often the NBA/FIBA have played since 2003:

-2003: NBA went 2-0, winning one game in Barcelona and one in North America.

-2004: NBA went 1-0, as the Toronto beat Panathinaikos in Toronto.

-2005: NBA went 1-1, Maccabi Tel Aviv toured the North America and beat Toronto and lost in Orlando.

-2006: The number of games jumped to 12.  NBA teams went 6-2 in Europe (FC Barcelona took out the Sixers and CSKA crushed the Clippers by 19) and were 4-0 against the Euros in the U.S./Canada.

-2007: So far the U.S. is 2-1 in Europe but nine more games are scheduled, mostly in Europe.  Notably, Maccabi comes to the Garden to play the Knicks tomorrow.

The one fact we can take from this is that the NBA-FIBA relationship is growing and European expansion, in some form, is inevitable.  Frankly, this is a pretty exciting development.  In the meantime, let’s watch these games and see what we can learn from more and more Euro match ups.

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