NEW YORK – To New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, hearing a white man refer to a black woman using a certain vulgar term would be "highly offensive."
But he said he wouldn't be so offended if he heard a black man use the same term to refer to a black woman.
"I do make a distinction," Thomas said in a videotaped deposition played for a jury Monday in his sexual harassment trial.
A former female team executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, is seeking $10 million in damages on her claim that she was fired because she accused Thomas of harassment. She has said that Thomas repeatedly called her by the word, "bitch," which the Knicks coach was addressing in the videotaped deposition.
He denied calling Browne Sanders vulgar names.
"I never cursed at Miss Sanders," a mild-mannered Thomas said in the tape, which was projected on a big screen in a packed federal courtroom in the second week of the widely publicized trial.
"Now have I ever used curse words around her, yes, but at her? No," Thomas said in response to questions posed by attorneys.
The airing of the deposition came during the second week of a trial that has exposed the Knicks — one of the NBA's most-storied franchises — to a series of damaging allegations just weeks before the start of training camp. The lawsuit has portrayed Madison Square Garden as more dysfunctional frat house than hallowed basketball arena.
The lawsuit claims Browne Sanders was fired "for telling the truth" about vulgarity and unwanted advances by Thomas, also a team president.
Thomas has adamantly denied the allegations.
Robert Levy, an employment lawyer and a Knicks season ticket holder, also testified Monday that he attended an open practice event at Madison Square Garden in October 2005 and witnessed an encounter between Thomas and Browne Sanders, a former Knicks vice president.
Levy said he was seated in the stands with his son and saw Thomas in a conversation nearby with Browne Sanders and another man.
Thomas was praising the great job Browne Sanders was doing, and Levy said he saw Thomas place his arm around her shoulders and heard him remark "it was distracting working with someone easy on the eyes."
The incident lasted only a few minutes, with Browne Sanders pulling away, displaying an uncomfortable expression on her face at the time, Levy testified.
Browne Sanders testified Monday that Thomas repeatedly called her a nasty name during business meetings.
She made those claims during an aggressive cross examination by Thomas' defense attorney, Kathleen Bogas.
It was unclear how Thomas reacted to the testimony; his back was to the courtroom audience.
She also fended off assertions that her job performance was lacking after Madison Square Garden attorney Ronald Green introduced a series of 2004-2005 e-mail exchanges by Browne Sanders and various managers at the Garden, including President Steve Mills.
"I want to stress that you are focused on more ridiculous issues than I can handle," Mills replied to Browne Sanders' e-mail asking about the order of the names in a media guide.
"Were you concerned that the relationship with Mr. Mills was not as good as it had been?" Browne Sanders was asked. She replied that she was not.
Greene noted that, in an e-mail to a friend, Browne Sanders indicated that she would soon begin revising her resume. Opposing lawyers apparently are trying to show that Browne Sanders was in a power struggle, fearing her high-salaried position was slipping away from her.
Browne Sanders responded that she had received a "glowing evaluation."
After the jury of five women and three men left the courtroom Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Gerard Lynch expressed exasperation that the case was taking longer than non-celebrity trials and asked lawyers to speed things up.
"I saw one juror nodding off this morning," said the judge.