Isiah Thomas' jaw was clenched tight as he stared at the blank expressions of the seven jurors who had paraded single-file past him, not one of them returning his gaze.
The jury appeared nearly finished finding in favor of plaintiff Anucha Browne Sanders in her sexual harassment suit against Thomas and Madison Square Garden. The note that the jury sent to the judge shortly after 4:30 p.m. said it had reached unanimous verdicts on eight of the nine questions on the verdict sheet.
Isiah Thomas left court on Monday with a ruling nearly at hand.
The members of the jury remained divided 6-1 on Question No. 4, which deals with whether Thomas will be held personally liable for punitive damages. And since the verdict form instructed the jury to skip Question No. 4 unless it had found in favor of the plaintiff, it was apparent the New York Knicks were headed for a defeat.
A short time later Thomas tried to summon a smile as he left the front doors of the courthouse and endured the paparazzi treatment for his 100-foot walk to a waiting limo, but the effort seemed half-hearted. The pack of photographers got right up in his face, one of them exiting quite pleased with himself after he had yelled, "C'mon buddy! Look right at me! Right at me!" and had gotten his desired reaction.
There remains just one question for the jury to finalize before this trial moves into the penalty phase, with the jury deciding on punitive damages and the judge ruling on compensatory damages. Meanwhile, Thomas was expected to return to the courtroom Tuesday morning rather than fly to Charleston, S.C. for the start of the Knicks' training camp.
As Monday's jury deliberations brought us to the brink of a verdict, it became apparent that the case will give us plenty to sort out. So let's get to a Q & A to tackle a few of the issues in play here and look ahead to what's going to happen in the days and weeks ahead:
Q: Will Isiah Thomas get fired because of this?
A: The jury has indicated it believes Thomas committed sexual harassment, and his employer could have to pay as much as $10 million to solve a problem Thomas helped create. Given such a finding, if we were dealing with a typical workplace, then yes, of course, he'd be fired.
But Madison Square Garden is not a typical workplace, and Knicks boss James Dolan is not your typical boss. By all accounts, Dolan remains to this day, despite Thomas' track record as team president and coach, enamored of Thomas. More important, Dolan remains convinced, in his own mind, that he made the right decision by hiring Thomas, and to jettison him now would be admitting a mistake. Dolan is quite averse to doing that, as we learned again by watching him allow this case to go to trial when it could have been settled, sparing lots of people, not least among them NBA commissioner David Stern, the shame and humiliation it brought upon them.
Assuming he stays in the job for the time being, Thomas isn't going to be able to rely so readily on his charm as he has so often in the past, and fans are going to start viewing him more as an extension of Dolan than they have in the past.
So Thomas could be an easy fall guy, especially if the Knicks come out of the gate slowly this season.
Q: So, what does Thomas do? Walk away, go back to coaching the team and hope this all blows over?
A: Well, yes, probably so. That's the best he can do.