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Isiah Thomas named team president and part owner of WNBA's Liberty

Former NBA player Isiah Thomas waits for the

Former NBA player Isiah Thomas waits for the start of a USA Basketball showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 25, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Isiah Thomas was named team president and part owner of the WNBA's Liberty, the team announced Tuesday.

Thomas will be responsible for basketball and business operations. He also will have an ownership interest in the team, pending WNBA approval.

"I love the game," Thomas said in a phone interview. "I'm very passionate about the game. In terms of going out and acquiring talent and drafting talent, I think I'll be able to do that well. Building up the talent, building up the basketball, I'll be able to do that. Now we want to make sure we put a good product on the Garden floor."

In the Liberty's release announcing the move, Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan said Thomas "has been advising the team" since the fall and "we are very pleased with the results."

The Liberty brought back Thomas' former Pistons teammate Bill Laimbeer as coach and hired former Knicks coach Herb Williams as an assistant. Dolan said Thomas "has overseen" those decisions as well as the free-agent signings and draft strategy.

"Now, we've agreed that it is time for him to take a lead role with the team as president, and through his ownership interest," Dolan said in a statement. "He's an excellent judge of talent, and I'm confident that he will put all of his energy and experience into making the Liberty a perennially competitive and successful team."

Thomas' partial ownership stake still must be approved by the WNBA.

"New owners are approved by our WNBA Board of Governors," league president Laurel Richie said in a statement, "and this process has not yet begun."

Thomas, an NBA Hall of Famer who won two titles with the Pistons, spent six seasons with the Knicks, including five as team president and two as coach.

In 2006, Thomas and the Garden were accused in a sexual harassment case filed by former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders. In 2007, she was awarded $11.6 million. Thomas maintained his innocence and never was found personally liable.

"We did not believe the allegations then, and we don't believe them now," Madison Square Garden said in a separate statement on Tuesday. "We feel strongly that Isiah Thomas was held responsible for sordid allegations that were completely unrelated to him, and for which MSG bore responsibility. In fact, when given the opportunity, the jury did not find Isiah liable for punitive damages, confirming he did not act maliciously or in bad faith. We believe Isiah belongs in basketball, and are grateful that he has committed his considerable talent to help the Liberty succeed."

While Thomas was a coach at Florida International University, the Knicks tried to hire him as a consultant in 2010, but that plan was scrapped because it violated NBA rules.

In his new position, Thomas said he will not be involved with the Knicks.

"I'm with the Liberty," he said. "That's my job. I'm the president of the New York Liberty. That's my focus and that's my job.

"To me, basketball is basketball. These women are outstanding athletes who want to compete for a championship in New York. I look forward to this challenge -- not just to win a title, but also to help broaden the team's fan base."

Liberty star Tina Charles said she has no issues with Thomas' return to the Garden. "I don't hold anybody to their past," Charles said.

With AP

The Dolan family owns

controlling interests in the Liberty, Madison Square

Garden and Cablevision.

Cablevision owns Newsday.


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