MIAMI - Here's a sign of how far Isiah Thomas was willingto go for an opportunity to return to coaching: He will not make adollar his first year at Florida International.
With that, Thomas' attempt at rebuilding a Hall of Fame imagethat was badly tarnished over the last couple years got underway.
Thomas' introduction to FIU on Wednesday included the revelationthat the former New York Knicks coach and president -- who's stillowed millions from the NBA team -- will donate his salary back tothe school for his first season. School officials did not releasethe exact figure, other than saying it's between $200,000 and$300,000.
"I did not come here for the money," Thomas said.
No, he came to FIU for a new beginning.
Thomas arrived in Miami eager to move beyond the numerousproblems that marred his tenure with the Knicks, such as being thecentral figure in a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2007 and then,according to authorities, being found unconscious in his NewYork-area home last fall after someone at the residence called 911to report someone had overdosed on sleeping pills.
He did not offer specifics on either of those events.
"When you rise all the way to the top of your profession, nomatter who you are, the journey to the top is great," Thomas said."And then you've got to come down, whether you're the president ofthe United States or the president of the university or you're thetop coach in basketball or the top player."
Thomas, a Hall of Fame player after his time with the DetroitPistons, acknowledged that he was disappointed by his tenure withthe Knicks.
During his time in New York, Thomas endured legal and personaltroubles off the court, and more losses than wins on it. His Knickswere 23-59 a season ago, prompting a firing many fans had longawaited. The Knicks never won a playoff game in his tenure aspresident or coach, and many of his moves -- like acquiring StephonMarbury -- didn't work out as planned.
"My regret is that I wasn't able to deliver what the people inNew York wanted, and they want a championship," Thomas said. "Alot of us have tried. ... I couldn't get it done."
His arrival was celebrated in Miami, much in the way hisdeparture was in New York.
Thomas arrived outside FIU's basketball arena at 10:25 a.m.Wednesday, riding passenger in a sleek black Mercedes. Even beforehe could get out of the car, three well-wishers couldn't wait togreet him.
"Hey! There he is!" shouted one of the men, all of whom gothandshakes from Thomas before the car pulled into a parking space.
"I like rolling up my sleeves. I like taking some from thebottom and building it to the top. There's a lot of risk in thatand there is also a lot of reward in that. But that's how I grewup. I want to take FIU to the next level and I know it's going totake a lot of hard work, but I'm willing to pay the price to dothat."
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said he has a personalrelationship with Thomas, and was convinced that despite all thedrama that followed him in New York, he was convinced the GoldenPanthers got the right man to take their program "to the highestlevel."
"It's a landmark day in our history," Garcia said.
Nonetheless, he was dogged by questions about Thomas' history.
In 2007, a jury ordered Knicks owner Madison Square Garden topay $11.6 million to a former team executive who alleged she wassexually harassed by Thomas, who continually maintained hisinnocence and was never found personally liable.
This past October, there was more drama.
Officers responded to Thomas' New York-area home after a 911call reported someone had overdosed on sleeping pills. According topolice reports, officers found a man passed out and gave him oxygenuntil an ambulance arrived.
Authorities never publicly identified Thomas as the victim, buta person familiar with the case confirmed to the AP that it wasThomas.
Garcia said FIU investigated Thomas and was aware of hishistory, yet did not reveal specifics of what he found.
"We have mutual friends, we've had them for a long time,"Garcia said. "I've known Mr. Thomas for a while. I know IsiahThomas. And I guarantee one thing, we are getting a great humanbeing."
Thomas will face some immediate challenges: FIU went 13-20 thispast season, its third 20-loss campaign in four years, and has notposted a winning record since 1999-2000.
He started moving quickly to fill his roster: Thomas startedrecruiting preparations Tuesday night, only a few hours afterarriving in South Florida.
"There'll be a lot of ups and a lot of downs," Thomas said."There'll be more ups than downs."