Isiah Thomas was in a courtroom yesterday – not on the basketball court – but he was still playing games. Jurors heard the Knicks coach say he wouldn’t stand for a white man calling a black woman a “bitch” – but wouldn’t be as angry if the same words came from the mouth of a black man. In a videotaped deposition played for the jury at fired Knicks exec Anucha Browne Sanders’ sexual harassment trial, Thomas said he drew a distinction between whites and blacks when it came to the B-word. Asked if he was bothered by a black man calling a black female “bitch,” Thomas said: “Not as much. I’m sorry to say, I do make a distinction. “A white male calling a black female a bitch is highly offensive,” Thomas said. “That would have violated my code of conduct.” “Maybe I shouldn’t go there. … A white male calling a black female, that is wrong with me. I’m not taking that. I’m not accepting that. … That’s a problem for me.” Browne Sanders was not taking it from anyone, not Thomas or his star guard Stephon Marbury. Both are fending off her claims they used the B-word to describe her, an African-American once among the NBA’s highest-ranking female executives. “Now, have I ever used curse words around her? Yes, but at her? No,” Thomas said on the video, which was projected on a big screen in a packed courtroom in the second week of the widely publicized trial.
Browne Sanders filed a $10 million suit against Thomas and Knicks’ parent Madison Square Garden after the Knicks fired her in December 2005. Thomas was so stung by the pretrial testimony he gave earlier this year that he made a rare statement as he left court. “Please don’t mischaracterize the videotape shown in court today,” he pleaded, insisting, “I don’t think it’s right for any man to call a woman a ‘bitch.'” Marbury has admitted calling Browne Sanders a bitch but denied calling her a “black bitch.”
On the video, Thomas denied ever calling Browne Sanders “bitch” or “ho,” as she claims. “Please, no,” he said when asked. “Come on.” He also denied directing the F-word at her or that he was ever interested in her romantically. “I’m not attracted to her, no,” Thomas said, flashing an uncomfortable smile. The videotape was clearly the highlight of a day in which Garden lawyers had hoped to embarrass Browne Sanders on the witness stand. They spent six hours grilling her about questionable tax deductions she took and a trail of e-mails she sent to her boss in the waning days of her five-year stint in the Garden’s front office.
Dressed in a pink jacket with black slacks, the former Northwestern basketball star remained steady and confident, even as Thomas’ lawyers bore in on her to recite the precise sentences used with the B-word. At least two jurors nodded off during the lengthy cross-examination, but perked up when the tape of Thomas, in a suit jacket with an open collar, was played. Thomas was asked if he would have disciplined Marbury if he had found out he called Browne Sanders a “black bitch.” Thomas said, “As best I could, yes.”