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May 19, 2019

James Dolan will still pay his pal Isiah Thomas even after sale of WNBA’s Liberty

February 22, 2019

Isiah Thomas was ditched by the Liberty, but James Dolan will keep his old buddy around for the time being.

Thomas, as expected, will no longer be president of the WNBA franchise following the sale from Dolan to Joe Tsai. But MSG will not fire Thomas, who, as it appears from a statement provided to the the Daily News, won’t now transition to a role with the Knicks.

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“Isiah’s contract ends in May and while we no longer own the Liberty, we will continue to honor his contract like we would any other executive. Isiah will continue to focus on his NBA TV job and managing his own business venture, Cheurlin Champagne,” the Madison Square Garden Company said.

The MSG Company will honor Isiah Thomas’ contract. (Seth Wenig / AP)

With the Liberty gone, the Knicks are the only basketball team owned by the MSG Company. Current Knicks president Steve Mills was responsible for first hiring Thomas at the Garden in 2003, but multiple sources said they had a falling out.

Most of the Liberty staff, including coach Katie Smith, will remain with the club as it continues to play most of its home games at the Westchester County Center this season. Tsai, a Taiwanese billionaire and co-founder of the Alibaba Group, officially purchased the Liberty last month. He also owns a 49 percent stake in the Brooklyn Nets with an option to take control in 2021.

Thomas was hired controversially as president of the Liberty in 2015, eight years after he was found liable in a sexual harassment lawsuit levied by Anucha Browne Sanders. The Liberty amassed an impressive record under Thomas (66-36) in three seasons. Previously, he was the president and coach of the Knicks during a tumultuous and ugly time for the franchise – one defined by losing and dysfunction.

But the friendship with Dolan never broke. Even after Thomas was fired by then-GM Donnie Walsh, Dolan tried to bring his buddy back as a consultant. When the NBA nixed that idea, Dolan continued to solicit Thomas’ advice and allowed him to influence the trade for Carmelo Anthony in 2011.

About four years later, Dolan hired Thomas to run the Liberty. The owner told HBO that he and Thomas are “going to be friends for a long time.”

“I don’t know if I can explain it other than that there’s something inside both of us that’s really quite similar,” Dolan said in that ‘Real Sports’ episode. “The tenacity, the stubbornness. Isiah’s a guy who doesn’t believe in his limitations. And I’m a guy who doesn’t believe in my limitations. … I think I’ve always understood him.”

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