The unsinkable Isiah Thomas

Ethan Miller

Isiah Thomas has done exactly nothing with distinction since he stopped playing basketball for a living. The impressive part is that he just keeps on doing it.

Let's not forget two things. Let's remember that it's probably wise not to put too much weight on a report, from Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, that Isiah Thomas is among the candidates being considered as the next executive director of the NBA Players Association. Jerry Stackhouse, who is one of the players involved in hiring, denied that Thomas was one of the four finalists, or that there are even four finalists at the moment. Also Jason Whitlock is not exactly or inexactly Adrian Wojnarowski, which beyond any other Whitlock-ian issues is reason enough not to buy this report. And, finally, Isiah Thomas is Isiah Thomas.

Which is the second thing to remember: Isiah Thomas, doe-eyed destroyer imp and the league's resident Unkillable Rasputin of Serial Failure, is not someone who really warrants consideration for any important basketball-related position. As a basketball player, Isiah Thomas was great and fascinating -- both graceful and mean, fantastically productive for an extended period of time, and more intriguingly trollish than you'd think. As an executive and coach, from the moment he burst through the Toronto Raptors logo in a leather jacket and khakis, grinning like an evil puppet and full of heroically bad ideas, Thomas has burned all he's touched, in the most embarrassingly handsy-horny and disingenuous way possible.

Of course you know all this, whether you're still picking smoldering wreckage-chunks from a Zeke'd franchise out of your psyche or just follow the NBA somewhat. Everyone knows this, and not just because Isiah Thomas keeps reminding us of it by being the way he's been. That he has a persistent advocate and patron in New York Knicks owner James Dolan -- who tried to hire Thomas as a consultant while Zeke was busy harming the basketball program at Florida International University -- is not an argument on Isiah's behalf so much as it is confirmation of his manifest unemployability. Thomas has the faith of his foremost abettor, himself a surly, savage walking parody of unearned privilege and crudity, extruded into a microfiber mock-turtleneck and with a doofy bluesman hat stuck on top. The case is closed.

And yet here Thomas is, bandied-about and rumored again. This is a different thing than the NBPA entrusting its future to him, naturally. But if it makes a certain amount of sense for the NBPA to seek the opinion of a Hall of Famer with a long history in NBA front offices, it makes notably less when that person is Isiah Thomas. This is a man who, if hired to run a Panera bread, would be serving wet loaves of bread stuffed with sticks and lit firecrackers within weeks, and charging $11.99 for them. The dining room would be overrun by hostile weasels within hours of opening, and he would give a smiling press conference claiming that the weasels were phase one in some "big changes we're really excited about." It would be amusing until someone would get hurt, and someone usually does.

We must presume that the people making decisions for the NBPA know all this, and so can probably assume that Thomas is a long-shot for this gig. There are still people in the NBA who worked for Isiah Thomas, survivors to tell the tale. There is the fresh memory of what he's like, and what happens to things he runs; anyone can Google "Isiah Thomas Anucha Browne Sanders" and read what pops up. It took Thomas less than three years to utterly destroy the Continental Basketball Association; he ran Madison Square Garden's executive offices as a grope-y gulag, all paranoia and flubbiness and denial. It's a matter of record, and it should be enough.

It's not a kind or nice thing, wishing unemployment on anyone -- being out of work sucks, and hurts a lot. Even a very wealthy man like Isiah Thomas would rather work than not. And while it's not clear why a team would want to hire Isiah Thomas as a coach, given his record of sketchy un-success, but there may be something there to find, something he wants to teach and actually can. Maybe that's something he wants to do, although Thomas seems a bit more ambitious than that.

But as bleakly hilarious as Isiah's inexplicable unsinkability and stubborn permanence is, there's a point at which it becomes tough to laugh. If Thomas wants to flounder and skeeve on the sidelines for some lower-tier team the Sun Belt Conference, that's up to him and whoever sees fit to hire him. If he can turn things around, he will get another shot. He's still Isiah Thomas.

But the NBPA has to know better than to give him a pity-dance, right? They have to know -- because they just experienced it, and are living with the CBA it gave them -- that employer militancy is on the rise in the NBA and elsewhere. They have to know that having Zeke at the table in place of someone more serious and less persistently self-interested, whenever the next lockout comes -- and the current batch of NBA owners are the current batch of NBA owners, so it probably will come -- would not be funny at all. It would be a joke, but it would not really be very funny. Everyone knows this. Everyone knows this, right?

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