2007-09-21 / Sports

Thomas,MSG,On Ropes As Trial Nears End

By John J. Buro

NEW YORK- In less than two weeks, the NY Knicks will host Media Day at their Greenburgh facility. This year's event will have two elements to it. It is a chance to welcome Zach Randolph, among other new acquisitions, into the mix; it is also an opportunity to welcome back Isiah Thomas as the coach.

While the [figurative] jury is still out on Randolph, a player who makes headlines just as frequently off the court as he does on, a [literal] jury is set to determine Thomas' fate inside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in lower Manhattan.

The sexual harassment lawsuit, filed in 2006 by Anucha Browne Sanders, a former Senior Vice President of Marketing at Madison Square Garden, is finally nearing its conclusion after five exhausting, and profanity-laced, sessions.

Thomas, who would much rather be discussing X's and O's than sit for six hours per day listening to testimony and watching videotaped depositions, has lived through the worst of what was offered.

The fact that Thomas created such tension with his alleged variations of F-bombs and racially-lined comments has not helped matters.

Earlier, on the fourth jury-day, certain facts were slowly becoming evident.

The greatest of these admissions was that Steve Mills, the President of Madison Square Garden, had ample opportunity to prevent a trial. He did not inquire about Stephon Marbury's earlier comments, when the point guard - and face of the organizationcalled Browne Sanders a 'bitch'. Then, by virtue of further procrastination, Mills did not intervene when Browne Sanders asked him to speak with Thomas on her behalf.

Perhaps, his involvement would have rectified what is deemed to be a 'hostile work environment,' for female employees. But, even if a proactive approach couldn't resolve the underlying issue, and a trial was the only choice, it surely would've looked more favorable in the eyes of the jury and various court observers.

In the end, any resolution will be a tainted one. A win will sully to what is left of MSG's good name, merely because of what was revealed; a loss will further hurt them in the wallet.

Mills' videotaped testimony, which was played on Tuesday morning, has crippled MSG's case because it illustrated a lack of sensitivity.

And, while he does not appear to be a malicious gentleman, one of his primary responsibilities is to oversee lower levels of management.

Instead, he just turned a blind eye, in the hope that Browne Sanders' complaints would be neatly swept under the carpet.

The week had begun with a solemn moment, which was a 180-degree turn from the previous Monday. Then, it was just about jury selection, and a four-page questionnaire, which required 34 responses.

But, during the first break, Judge Lynch - together with both sides- met with Juror No. 2, whose name and hometown was previously published, as Thomas and Mills privately huddled. There was no laughter, no hint of a smile, from either man.

Scrimmage was over, and the game faces were on.

And, as Browne Sanders faced a barrage of questions throughout the day, their disposition remained even.

Specifically, Ronald Green - MSG's lead chair- had grilled her about personal income tax returns that were filed between 2001-04; the government was led to believe that Browne Sanders had her own marketing company. Rather, as no such company existed, she knowingly created false deductions - and, because of it, she reaped nearly $70,000 in credits and deductions over the four-year period. Browne Sanders, who was responsible for putting MSG's budget in place, fidgeted when Green repeatedly asked her to locate the exact line on the Schedule C which illustrated those blatant lies.

On and on it went - until the final hour of the day when Thomas' videotaped deposition was played. Then, suddenly, revelations of Browne Sanders' taxes were lost.

Thomas, an impeccably dressed man, did not wear a tie with his suit jacket, and that may have been the first hint of things to come. He was incredibly relaxed and, as such, did not mince his words.

"A white man calling a black female 'bitch', that is wrong with me," he said defiantly. "I am not accepting that. That's a problem for me."

But, when Thomas was asked if he'd have a problem with a black man calling a black woman by the same name, he deadpanned, "Not as much."

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