Before I get into the meat of this article, let me say that, of all the columnists who have repeatedly ripped Isiah Thomas the last couple of years because of his perplexing transactions as the general manager of the New York Knicks, I have been at, or near the top of the list when it came to Thomas’ critics.
Having said that, I will also go on record as backing up Thomas for his latest alleged transgression – ordering his players to commit a hard fould at the end of a game they were clearly being overly embarassed in by the visiting Denver Nuggets in a contest that Denver head coach, George Karl classlessly left his starters in until the final minute of the game although his team was ahead by 20 points.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am neither advocating the violence that occurred during the ensiung melee nor am I encouraging all-out acts of thuggery that could possibly land some athlete in the emergency ward of the nearest hospital.
I am saying that there is such a thing a good sportsmanship and classiness, not to mention an unwritten rule book regarding upstaging behavior in every sport. All Thomas did was enforce one of those unwritten rules, which, by the way, have been around waaaay before Thomas or his idiotic counterpart Karl, ever made front page news because of their respective behavior.
Again, I am not advocating violence in any shape, form or fashion, I am however, wondering why Karl would leave in his starters, specifically, the ultra-talented Carmelo Anthony and the rail-thin, “handle with care” Marcus Camby, who has been injured at one point or another throughout his entire professional career.
Any coach with an IQ over 10 knows that you don’t leave your best players in a game that is already over, if, for no other reason than fear of injury in a meaningless situation. Especially in this day and age of high-speed information where every public event can literally be broadcast across the globe in a matter of minutes after occuring.
Leaving your superstar player in a game that you’re winning by 20 points with two minutes left, is an absolutely ludricrous act that is akin to Phil Jackson leaving Michael Jordan in to play in the same situation? Unlike Karl, Jackson knows nothing good can come from just such a situation. Besides, shouldn’t Karl have put in some of his younger players in an effort to get them more court time and experience?
Of course he should have, which brings me back to my original question of why Karl left those players in game.
First off, let me say that, although I generally despise Karl and his antics, I have to admit that the man can flat out coach the game of basketball. Knowing Karl’s basketball bloodlines, which are eternally tied to the University of North Carolina, I would surmise that Karl knows all about the proper etiquette of handling a situation where your team is winning big in the final stages of a game.
Number one, you don’t want to show up your opponent and try to embarrass them. These opposing players are professionals themselves and have long memories and secondly, because most players know that one day they could be a teammate of some of their opponents themselves.
Whether on the winning end or losing end of a blowout – in any sport – there are undeniable “unwritten” rules that all coaches and players know about from the time they compete in youth league’s all across the country.
Unfortunatley, coaches like Karl still cross the line and then immediately claim blissful ignorance.
Did Karl know what he was doing by leaving his starters in until the horn sounded? I suspect so. I also believe that Karl may have been trying to get retribution for his dear friend and mentor, Larry Brown, who got a bad deal with the Knicks and Thomas that sullied the pristine reputation of the Hall of Fame coach.
We may never really know Karl’s reasoning behind his absurd decision, but one thing is for sure, his team – and not the New York Knicks – who are already atrocious – is going to suffer the most for it.
In closing, I want to say that I am not trying to take away the blame from the players actions, which was saddening in itself, but in hindsight, I think this entire event could have been avoided had Karl chosen to take his starters out of the game like he should have.
When he didn’t, Isiah Thomas did what hundreds of other coaches in numerous sports before him have done – remind Karl of the “unwritten” rules.