What Really Happened at Isiah Thomas's FIU Press Conference

Categories: Sports
FIU's new men's basketball coach. At least they'll be good bike riders...
Either FIU Vice President and Provost Ronald Berkman is a dedicated New Times reader or he just screwed up the most significant moment in FIU's history.

This morning at approximately 11:29 a.m., after mentioning nearly every politician in Miami-Dade County by name, from Sweetwater mayor Manual Morono to Hialeah Gardens mayor Yioset de la Cruz to Miami-Dade Comissioners Dennis Moss and Jose "Pepe" Diaz, and with a crowd of several hundred spectators and press breathlessly awaiting the announcement of the school's brand-new head men's basketball coach, Berkman ushered in the new era with the words, "I'd like to personally welcome Isiah Thompson."

Behind him, Isiah Thomas, 12-time NBA All-Star, two-time NBA championship winner, and 1990 NBA Finals MVP, laughed uncomfortably and took a sip of coffee, which must have tasted pretty bitter to a man whose name just 12 months ago was attached to the most important basketball franchise on earth. Billy Joel used to say he'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. In the same vein, it's probably better to have your name written correctly on ugly signs in Madison Square Garden than have it mispronounced at a former commuter school who plays in the Sun Belt conference and last had a winning record during the Clinton administration.

The fall from grace was punctuated by the revelation of the details of Thomas's contract: just shy of $1.2 million for five years, according to Athletic Director Pete Garcia. While that salary may be commensurate with other Sun Belt coaches, it's a far cry from even the $12 million he received in severance from James Dolan and the Knicks. Thomas and Garcia also claimed that Thomas elected to waive the first year of his salary after he heard about the budget cuts at FIU and that the state of Florida--not FIU--will be paying for the $5 million renovation of U.S. Century Bank Arena. (If you haven't been there, imagine whatever gym you took the SAT in and you're almost there.)  In other words, Thomas/Thompson is coming pretty cheap, a move we applaud if he can stay clean the three to four years it will take to bring FIU basketball to national prominence.

Other highlights the other media outlets probably won't mention:

A local reporter said he'd never been to an FIU basketball game and asked Thomas what the coach would do in his first year to convince him to come to US Century Bank Arena. Thomas said he should just come to the games and find out for himself.

"But why?" the reporter persisted.
"Because I'm asking you," Thomas said.

In reponse to how he would affect the lives of the players at FIU, Thomas emphasized the importance of going to class and getting their degrees. "Had I not gotten my degree in criminal justice," Thomas said, "I wouldn't have been able to coach at the university level." Or maybe being named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history had something to do with it, too...

And when a reporter asked what Thomas would say to the parent of a recruit if that parent, in light of all the trouble Thomas has been in, questioned Thomas's character, Thomas rattled off the semi-non-sequiter:  "Fortunately or unfortunately, there are some parents who have named their kids after me."

One of those parents was apparently not Ron Berkman.

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