Tom Thibodeau said the Knicks vetted Rick Brunson like any other employee but wouldn’t disclose if the team investigated allegations of harassment and sexual abuse levied against the assistant coach.
“I would say in general — our organization is going to vet everyone,” Thibodeau said Tuesday. “That’s normal protocol now. I’m not exactly sure everything that was done. When they hire anyone, they’re going to vet him. That’s corporate America.”
Thibodeau added that Brunson, who was hired in the offseason, is a longtime friend and, “I’m very comfortable with who he is. …I feel very strongly about him.”
Pressed further about whether the team investigated specific accusations, Thibodeau redirected the question to team president Leon Rose, who wasn’t made available by the Knicks. Rose hasn’t addressed independent media in over a year and wasn’t asked about Brunson’s past in an interview with MSG Network, which is owned by James Dolan.
In 2014, Brunson, now 50, was charged with sexual assault of a masseuse in Illinois after allegedly using the name of his former Knicks teammate, Patrick Ewing, to book the appointment. Brunson testified it was a consensual sexual act as part of an ongoing extramarital relationship. He was found not guilty.
Four years later, Brunson resigned as assistant coach of the Timberwolves amid allegations of “improper interactions” toward women while he was on the job, according to The Athletic.
Brunson was then out of the NBA for four years until taking a spot on Thibodeau’s bench. In between, he coached Camden High School to a State championship in New Jersey.
“With all their employees they’re going to do the same thing. That’s part of getting hired here,” Thibodeau said. “You have to remember — he was hired in Minnesota. He was in high school. He’s here. I’m comfortable. I know who he is.”
Brunson’s connections to the Knicks are deep. He played for the franchise as a backup point guard under Jeff Van Gundy. He was the first NBA client of Leon Rose, who was a longtime agent before heading the Knicks front office. Brunson served as an assistant under Thibodeau at two previous spots – Chicago and Minnesota. His son, Jalen, is now the Knicks’ starting point guard after signing a four-year, $104 million deal in free agency.
A Knicks representative said the team has nothing to add about Brunson’s hiring beyond Thibodeau’s statements.
Earlier this week, the Celtics suspended head coach Ime Udoka for one season amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a female team employee.