NEW YORK—Ousted Knicks coach and president Isiah Thomas, who presided over the team during one of the least successful and most shameful periods in its history, held a press conference Wednesday to announce that his four-year legacy of abysmal team chemistry, bloated payrolls, sex scandals, and simple losing was actually a vast psychological experiment carried out on New York City as a whole.
"Congratulations, New York—I've discovered you are healthier, more resilient, and stronger than anyone would have believed," Thomas told reporters assembled to see him clean out his office, file his final report to the National Institute of Mental Health, and debrief the players and coaches who had unwittingly assisted his efforts. "Although there are indications you also have deep-seated anger issues, misplaced feelings of entitlement, and tend to live vicariously through others, overall I'm very pleased with you, and I am confident you'll come out of this a much stronger city."
"I'm a bit worried, though, that you let this experiment go on as long as it did before standing up for yourselves and making it stop," Thomas added. "I had only planned for it to last a year. New Yorkers may want to work on their assertiveness in the future."
Thomas confessed that he came up with the idea in late 2003 when he heard the Knicks were seriously considering hiring him to helm the organization despite the fact that he himself was known to be a demanding, contentious figure and had no real experience coaching a team or working at the administrative level.
"I thought, 'That's just crazy. They must be out of their minds in New York.' And then it hit me," Thomas said. "I could probably get a huge research grant for a massive study of the affects of constant low-level trauma on large populations out of this. Within minutes, was on the phone to my man at NIMH."
Thomas worked alongside behavioral psychologists with an extensive knowledge of domestic-abuse patterning, aversion dynamics, the works of B. F. Skinner, and long-term mass hysteria to assemble a comprehensive testing program. An experiment consisting of a regimen of slowly increasing stress levels and traumatic events was designed, refined, and eventually performed upon New York City and Knicks fans everywhere.
"I knew that bringing in as many ball-hogs as possible, especially Stephon Marbury, would create a feeling of isolation and abandonment in the greater metropolitan area's 11 million residents," Thomas said. "And by assembling a team that consistently ranked dead last in the NBA in assists, I created a symbolic analogue for the helpless desolation of the modern urban experience that was designed to heterodyne in New York's collective psyche, prompting frequent and perhaps even violent reactions."
"Worked like a charm, if you ask me," Thomas noted.
Other experimental stimuli Thomas used in the experiment include misspent draft picks, sexual-harassment lawsuits, rumors of listening devices placed in the team's locker room, firing acknowledged basketball guru Larry Brown and assuming the position of head coach, and leading the Knicks to win less than 40 percent of their games over four years.
"I was really proud when the chants of 'Fire Isiah' finally started," said Thomas, who intends to frame one of the fan signs bearing the slogan and display it in his home as a symbol of his success in New York. "I know I'm supposed to be objective about it—the experiment is the important thing, not the feelings of the fans—but it was a sign you were finally coming around."
"I think we all learned a lot," Thomas concluded.
For their part, the researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health were less enthusiastic.
"I don't know what made us pick Isiah," said NIMH director Dr. Thomas R. Insel, who is weathering demands for his resignation over the Knicks' losing record and treatment of fans. "He had no psychological experience, he wouldn't listen to noted experts who tried to help him, he responded to criticism with aggression, and in four short years he all but ruined a once-proud mental health organization through arrogance and incompetence. Frankly, if you ask me, the man's insane."