Though Isiah Thomas’ role in running the Continental Baskeball Association has been noted previously, the New York Daily News’ Christian Red and T.J. Quinn do a nifty job of finding people eager to talk trash about Zeke.
Thomas, who bought the league in 1999 and said he was going to turn it into a “Microsoft for basketball,” would curse and threaten to “kick asses” if the teams from Sioux Falls, La Crosse, Boise and other small cities didn’t see things his way.
“He ruled with intimidation,” says Diane Bosshard, who owned the La Crosse (Wis.) Bobcats with her husband Bill before selling to Thomas. “It was just like, ‘If I swear enough or if I act like I’m tough enough you’re going to back down.’”
“Just the rudest person that I have ever run into in my entire life,” says Rich Coffey, the former GM of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Fury and now the owner of the Fort Wayne Freedom in the Arena Football League. “He’s a very poor business person. He doesn’t listen to people. He’s always right. He makes poor decisions, and I’m talking about the CBA in particular.
“Who he listens to are people who tell him what he wants to hear. The fact that he’s still in basketball and running the Knicks just astounds me.”
In his short tenure as the owner of the CBA, Thomas had hoped to build it into a massive enterprise that might serve as an official minor league to the NBA. Instead, he lost between $5 and $7 million, made very few friends and ran a 55-year-old league into bankruptcy just as he left to become the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. Most of the old owners and a few new ones bought the league out of Chapter 7and revived it.
“The (CBA) owners got their money back, but then there are the employees, the players and the fans who are season ticket holders who got nothing. I worked three or four months without pay after I had worked (with the Fury) for 10 years,” says Coffey, a father of four. “You had the Sioux Falls, Boise and Fort Wayne franchises subsidizing the other (six) teams. They had to put up about $700,000. When I bought the Freedom four years ago, the first thing I said at a press conference with fans was, ‘Isiah Thomas is not involved.’”
There were cheers from the crowd.
That Thomas now runs the show at the world’s most famous arena is mind-boggling to the people he crossed paths with during the CBA debacle.
“I shook my head when I saw (that the Knicks had hired Thomas as their president). I thought, ‘Geez. Maybe he can coach. We certainly know he can play – he’s got a good basketball mind. But why would somebody not check into his business references?’” says Bill Ilett, the owner of the Idaho Stampede.
Suffering from chronic knee troubles, Indiana’s Jonathan Bender, the 5th overall pick in the 1999 Draft, has announced his retirement.