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Can of worms in the Big Apple

“I know what I’m needing

And I don’t want to waste more time,

I’m in a New York state of mind”

-- Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind”

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Unfortunately, for the local NBA team, it’s more like a police state of mind.

This was a bad week even for the Knicks, with teammates voting not to take Stephon Marbury back after he jumped the team, Coach Isiah Thomas overriding them, the team quitting on Thomas and Madison Square Garden ringing with chants of “Fire Isiah!”

“They looked like they didn’t want to compete,” Detroit’s Flip Murray said after the Knicks’ eighth loss in a row. “They were just out there.”

It was so them. When Thomas told Marbury he wouldn’t start, Marbury exploded, reportedly vowing to “bury” Isiah and the organization with things he knew.

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As demonstrated by last summer’s sexual harassment trial where so much came out -- such as Marbury’s liaison with a public relations intern -- the Knicks all seem to be spying on one another while the organization spies on them, waiting for the right time to sue, go to the tabloids or both.

Of course, if the team doesn’t turn around, someone has to be buried.

Unfortunately for Thomas, New York and the NBA, it will be Isiah, not Chief Executive James Dolan, the petulant tyrant this evil empire is set up to protect.

Thomas would just be the latest pigeon who couldn’t rebuild on the fly with other teams’ high-priced mistakes, following Dave Checketts and Scott Layden. That would make three presidents and five coaches in Dolan’s seven seasons.

No one but no one can touch Dolan. If there’s one thing he can do, it’s tell people where to get off, from Commissioner David Stern to the fans or the media.

Into this snake pit four years ago came Thomas, like Columbus discovering the New World.

As daring as he was as a player, Thomas upgraded the roster dramatically although he has yet to show he, or anyone, can coach his Hole in the Wall Gang.

After the fiasco with Larry Brown, who infuriated Dolan by ripping his players, Thomas was obliged to give smiley-face answers to all questions and lost all credibility.

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That was nothing compared with last summer’s trial in which Thomas wasn’t just tied to but became emblematic of the entire sordid organization.

Lost in the uproar, there was only a passing suggestion that Thomas made any advance -- an offer to meet Anucha Browne Sanders “off-site,” which he contended was to talk business -- as opposed to the allegations of his vulgar language.

Nor was Thomas held liable for anything, while Dolan was personally fined $3 million and Madison Square Garden $8.6 million more.

“This wasn’t classic over-the-top sexual harassment,” a court reporter for one of the New York papers said of Thomas’ role. “This was more boorish behavior.”

The trial focused, instead, on the process that led to Browne Sanders’ firing. In the next thing to a directed verdict, Judge Gerard E. Lynch told the jury it could find not only that Dolan had been “outright lying,” but that the firing was retaliatory and “rather nasty, deliberate retaliation at that.”

For the Knicks, it was standard procedure.

In 2005, intent not only on firing Brown but finding some breach of contract, the Knicks went on an internal witch hunt that included pulling employees’ phone records to see whom they were talking to.

They even toyed with claiming Brown’s roadside chat with reporters, who’d been barred from the practice facility, breached his contract . . . because there was no Knicks official present.

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Brown is gone -- with an $18.5-million settlement -- but the system remains. Knicks publicists still lurk behind press people, furiously typing players’ comments into their BlackBerries.

The real-life Garden is as far from its enforced fantasy world as hell is from heaven.

Browne Sanders’ trial may be a warmup for a more sensational suit by Courtney Prince, the former captain of the NHL Rangers’ City Skaters, who alleged graphic sexual advances by team officials.

The New York Post ran a full-page profile of Prince in which fellow skaters described her as sex-obsessed . . . which dovetailed with papers filed by the Garden’s attorney claiming Prince was bipolar, “a classic symptom of which is hyper-sexuality.”

Short of starting another riot -- the Knicks gave that a shot too -- they couldn’t do any more damage. In the city that decides what’s hot and what’s not, the NBA hasn’t just been uninteresting for years but a joke.

Stern, the scourge of player misconduct, is sitting this out or working far behind the scenes, unable to rebuke Dolan mildly without being airily dismissed.

Criticized for saying nothing after the trial, Stern finally noted the Knicks “aren’t a model of intelligent management.”

Dolan wouldn’t even let that go, politely telling Stern to mind his own business (“Right now, what we can all agree on is the best thing for the Knickerbockers is to get on the court and win some basketball games”).

Not that that happened.

Coincidentally or not, the league then gave Jamal Crawford the Community Assist Award for October.

Next: Eddy Curry honored for giving kids tips on nutrition?

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mark.heisler@latimes.com


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