What Really Happened at Isiah Thomas's FIU Press Conference

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:


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.


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...


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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