While Knicks coach and president Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden were held accountable by a federal jury Tuesday for sexually harassing a former team executive, it appears the NBA won't issue significant penalties to Thomas and MSG chairman James Dolan.
Team and league sources said that because Thomas and Dolan were part of a civil case instead of one involving a criminal complaint, it is unlikely that the NBA will suspend Thomas or impose any major sanctions against Dolan. The jury decided that Dolan and MSG must pay Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 million in punitive damages; Thomas does not have to pay any damages.
A league spokesman had no comment on the verdict.
Also, Thomas' job with the Knicks appears safe for the moment. While Thomas will certainly be under pressure to improve on last year's 33-win season -- he likely will need a strong opening month to show Dolan that the team is headed in the right direction -- the feeling around the league is that the result of the explosive three-week trial will have little to no bearing on Dolan's decision on whether to retain Thomas.
There is also the matter of the multiyear contract extension Thomas received in March after operating under a "win or else" ultimatum from Dolan last season. Thomas got the new deal when the Knicks held eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 29-34 record, but they won only four games the rest of the way to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Thomas said after the ruling that he would shift his attention to running the Knicks, who opened training camp Tuesday in Charleston, S.C.
"I am extremely disappointed that the jury failed to see the truth in this case -- that I never sexually harassed Anucha Browne-Sanders and had nothing to do with her being fired," Thomas said in a statement. "I didn't do what she said I did. I am innocent. I remain confident in the truth and am committed to appealing this decision and clearing my good name. During this period, I will focus on the basketball operations of the New York Knicks, and will have no further comment on this case."
With the Garden planning to appeal the verdict, the conclusion of this case might not come until 2009. ''A typical appeal for a case like this could take anywhere from nine months to two years,'' said Marty Wymer, a partner at the Cleveland law firm Baker Hostetler LLP and co-chair of the firm's national employment litigation practice group. ''But it all depends on what they appeal.''