William Davidson Should Have Said More About Isiah Thomas--Or LessShortly before William Davidson was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Mitch Albom conducted a lengthy interview with the only owner who has won championships in three professional sports leagues (three NBA titles with the Pistons, two WNBA titles with the Shock and one NHL title with the Lightning). Davidson offered interesting, intelligent and insightful takes on a wide range of subjects but his comments about Isiah Thomas made me wish that he had either said a lot more--or a little less:
"I was very, very close to Isiah, and there were times he was almost like a son. But, because of his background, um...I told him he had to change--you know, coming from where he came from. I said, 'You've got it made now. Don't keep doing those things that you've been doing.' I won't tell you what they are. But he couldn't change...We just come from different backgrounds. He had to fight his way up, and I didn't have the problems he had growing up. There's a lot of good things about Isiah, but when we had our parting, it was over something pretty substantial."
The "parting" Davidson mentioned refers to the fact that after Thomas retired as a player Davidson did not offer him the position in the Pistons' front office that Thomas seemed destined to occupy; of course, that job has been very capably filled by Joe Dumars. Later in the interview, Davidson told Albom that he had reached out to Thomas about five years ago to clear the air, concluding, "We're the best of friends today." That may be true, but Davidson really did a disservice to Thomas by leveling an accusation that is at once serious-sounding but also very vague. Was Davidson referring to something as relatively innocuous as Thomas' communication style or was he talking about something darker and more sinister? Since Davidson offered no specifics, that void is sure to be filled by careless, rampant speculation. This reminds me of when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Ron Harper for Danny Ferry because of rumors and speculation about the company Harper was keeping. Harper never got in trouble and ended up playing on six championship teams during his 15 year NBA career. Sometimes, an employer has quite valid concerns about a person's character, conduct and/or associates but it is a mistake to take drastic action based just on rumors. The questions about Harper turned out to be unfounded and trading him away proved to be a big mistake that may have cost the Cavs a chance to win a championship.
The general public does not have a very high opinion of Thomas at the moment, so the reaction to Davidson's comments by Detroit fans may be either "So what?" or "Good riddance" but that still does not make it right for Davidson to put Thomas' name in a negative light without making a specific allegation that Thomas could refute if he so desired. Davidson could have either simply said, "I had planned to hire Isiah after he retired but then I decided to go in a different direction" or he could have offered up a more precise explanation of what made him reconsider his plans. Whatever you may think of Thomas as a person or as an NBA executive, put yourself in his shoes for a moment: if you gave your heart and soul to your employer for more than a decade and twice helped your employer reach the pinnacle of the profession--in this case, a pair of NBA championships--regardless of whatever your flaws may be wouldn't you be hurt and disappointed if that employer not only reneged on a previous understanding to give you a bigger role in the organization but then publicly cast aspersions on your character?
William Davidson is a great man who has done a lot of wonderful things for Detroit, the NBA and with his numerous philanthropic endeavors but in this instance his words about Isiah Thomas could have been more carefully and thoughtfully chosen.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:38 AM