Isiah Thomas, hobbling down the court at full speed with a determination unlike any other, scored 25 points in a single quarter while suffering an eye injury, back issues, and a badly sprained ankle earlier in the historic Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals. That’s the kind of player he was. LeBron’s cramps? F*** outta here.
Fifteen years ago today, Isiah Thomas was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. It was his first year of eligibility. Thomas’ pro career, which lasted from 1981 to 1994, was spent as point guard for the Detroit Pistons. When accepted into the Hall of Fame, he was soft spoken and articulate while fighting back tears, and his enshrinement speech was incredibly moving. Thomas tells a phenomenal story about some powder blue Converse gym shoes and the Globetrotters. Here it is.
Isiah Thomas was a beast on the hardwood. He could change direction in the air like no one else. He could get the ball to the basket against all odds. He had a great basketball IQ, he had respect for the game, and he had hustle. Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals is just one example. He is one of few to score 16 points in 90 seconds.
In the 1988-1989 season, Thomas guided his team to a 63-19 win-loss record. The Pistons dominating and fast-paced style of play earned them their nickname: the Bad Boys. The Bad Boys first defeated the Celtics, then decimated the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, sparking an intense rivalry that lasted for years. Most people remember those 1989 Eastern Conference Finals for Jordan’s amazing performances in games 1,3, and 6. However, Jordan–er, the Bulls–just couldn’t cut it against the Bad Boys and the Pistons went on to annihilate the Lakers in a 4-0 sweep; it was their first of back-to-back Championships.
The following year, Thomas was voted NBA Finals MVP after averaging 27.6 ppg, 7 apg, and 5.2 rpg in the series against the Drexler-led Portland Trail Blazers. Unfortunately, Thomas’ Pistons did not return to the Finals due to the growing Bulls dynasty and injuries caused his depart from the NBA in 1994; a torn Achilles’ tendon actually forced Thomas into ending his career a month earlier than he’d planned.
In terms of footwear, Thomas wore mostly Converse but hit the hardwood in Puma as well. Towards the end of his career, Thomas rocked the Asics Gel-Spotlyte (which was retroed in Olympic form in 2014).
Isiah Thomas has a long list of career highlight and awards:
- 2× NBA champion (1989–1990)
- NBA Finals MVP (1990)
- 12× NBA All-Star (1982–1993)
- 2× NBA All-Star Game MVP (1984, 1986)
- 3× All-NBA First Team (1984–1986)
- 2× All-NBA Second Team (1983, 1987)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (1982)
- J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award (1987)
- NBA assists leader (1985)
- Detroit Pistons all-time leading scorer
- No. 11 retired by Detroit Pistons
- NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
- NCAA champion (1981)
- NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1981)
- Consensus first-team All-American (1981)
- USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)
Isiah Thomas scored 18,822 points (19.2 ppg), made 9,061 assists (9.3 apg), and grabbed 1,861 steals (1.9 spg) while playing in the NBA. He went on to broadcast and coach, earning the 2003 NBA All-Star Game head coach spot. If you want to watch and learn from a hard working and truly talented ballplayer, look no further than Isiah Thomas. Fortunately, there are hours and hours of Pistons golden age games on YouTube.