Aaron Guile: Why Isiah Thomas is stitching mad at Karl Malone
Isiah Thomas decided he needed to be in the news again.
No team will ever allow him to coach after failing with the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Florida International University and the CBA, so Thomas has to earn a living doing something else.
Now the news is Thomas is potty-mouthing Karl Malone.
Sean Highkin at USA Today quotes Thomas with, “I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter.”
Thomas claims Malone's poor foul shooting is why the Jazz failed in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals.
The free-throw shooting bit is a non-starter.
Highkin lists Malone’s career free-throw shooting percentage at 74.2 percent and Thomas’ at 75.9 percent. Thomas' 1.7 percent superiority is nothing, unless Thomas is critical of his own free-throw percentage. If Thomas needed something to prove Malone is a weak link, free-throw shooting isn't the right direction to take.
Thomas might know what he’s talking about, however. He is a former coach. He probably can spot a weak link a mile away. Being the head coach for at least four teams is probably what got him the TV coaching job. We all know TV coaches always know what they're talking about. We should trust Thomas.
As a player he wasn't half bad. He did win two championships with Detroit’s Bad Boy Pistons in ‘89 and ‘90. Malone never did that, so I suppose we should take Thomas at his word.
I just don’t buy it. Thomas knows Malone — with the rest of the Jazz — were a great squad. Malone is not a weak link. I have a different theory: Thomas is a bitter man. The stitches still hurt.
Jody Genessy of the Deseret News describes the stitches angle when, “In 1991 . . . (Thomas, Malone and Malone’s elbow) collided — when Malone smacked a driving Thomas to the floor — and resulted in the Pistons point guard receiving a reported 40 stitches above his eye.”
Forty stitches, but there was no mention of a football-type concussion.
If Malone concussed Thomas a bit, fans in New York, Indiana, Florida and Canada might like him a little. A concussion would explain coaching all those loses.
Thomas is sour grapes. He could never get past Jordan during the 1990s — much like the Jazz — and he needed to show some sort credibility by trashing another player.
Sticking it to Stockton wouldn’t work since John liked Thomas enough for the Hall of Fame. Ragging on the Jazz as a team wouldn’t work because coach Jerry Sloan would hunt him down and concuss him with another elbow; Bryon Russell worked extremely hard guarding Jordan, and the other players were no-names or had pot-bellies. So going after Malone is the only option available.
Jazz fans themselves have said as much as Thomas. He is likely cribbing notes from them. I have heard fans bemoan Malone as not being clutch or not having a killer instinct at least twenty-three-and-a-half-million times since Malone's draft date. But Malone is one of our own. It’s like me being critical of my brothers: I can do it, but I don’t tolerate it from others. I guess that's why Thomas raises Jazz fans' ire. I have read hundreds of ticked off Jazz fan comments on several sites. Genessy quotes a few of them in his article.
To support my hypothesis, I have two posits about Thomas’ statement. Malone was interviewed about Thomas’ non-pick for the Dream Team.
ESPNChicago.com writes Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen black-balled Thomas.
ESPNChicago.com quotes Malone with: “I never had any issue with Isiah. I think guys realized that it didn’t matter who was on the team. I know I could have cared less. It didn’t matter to me who was on that team. I was a part of something great.”
Malone is simply saying he didn't care who was on the Dream Team. I believe Malone. Sort of. I'm sure he black-balled Greg Ostertag.
I don’t know Malone personally, but this type of dirty-dealing doesn’t sound right. I love and respect Malone, but after getting beat-up, hospitalized and patronized, Thomas doesn’t. After the hammer-dunk elbow to the face, Thomas would hate Santa Claus, if Santa had delivered the blow. I'm sure Thomas believes in the Jordan, Pippen, Malone Dream Team black-ball conspiracy.
Posit No. 2 is entertainment.
Thomas ran his trap on NBA Open Court TV hosted by Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith. Johnson and Smith use Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley as comic relief and need someone saying something goofy to draw viewers. All Johnson and Smith had to do was mention something guaranteed to get Thomas wound up. The interview was like playing with a toy pull-back race car: Get the car all revved up and then watch it go.
It was easy. Johnson and Smith know about the elbow, stitches, hospital stay, bad blood, black-ball and missing gold-medal. With a little revving, they get Thomas to speak gibberish about the second-highest scoring player in NBA history. Thomas can defend himself by saying he has two championship rings and coaching credibility. Yeah, right, Thomas got manipulated.
Entertainment is a rough business. If Thomas can’t coach four teams to winning records, how's he going to flex intelligence on television. He can’t. Sure he sounds great. Check out the YouTube video of the interview. There is no lingering sign of a concussion or anything. That’s nothing.
I sound reasonably intelligent on almost any subject, but I’m a cartoonist, I'm a poetry-loving English-major and I’m fat. I love slinging cow excrement as much as anyone.
Thomas, however, is serious. He has a mortgage, car payments, new Obamacare insurance premiums, kids and a wardrobe. Thomas needs to pull in the money he was making as a coach. Working the sporting goods counter at Walmart doesn't cut it. He needs TV manipulation like a tweeker looking for the next hit.
I like Thomas. I like the Pistons. I especially liked the 1980s Pistons. The Pistons aren’t the Nuggets or the Lakers, so there is no reason to dislike them. Besides, my dad is from Detroit and half my family lives in Michigan. Until the elbow, however, there was no way to know the Detroit Bad Boys got in Malone's head. The Pistons didn’t seem that menacing. I’ve seen harder hits during a game of church ball or while substitute teaching high school girls PE classes.
Thomas needs to give it a rest. He needs to recognize in sports broadcasting it's heart of campy absurdity and go with the flow. Shaq and Barkley can do it, why not Thomas.
The nice thing for Thomas is the stitches don’t even show. He could be an actor.
Maybe he should try being a spokesman for something fun. He could do Five-Hour Energy ads like Bo Jackson.
He could sell 7-11 Big Gulps.
He could appear in advertisements for Wellbutrin, Citalopram or Zoloft. He could even drive truck or sell cars like Malone.
Whatever Thomas does, he needs get off Johnson and Smith’s couch, get some anger management counseling and stop being bitter.
Aaron Guile lives in Provo and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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