The inspiring story of Isaiah Thomas

Dylan Nunez, Writer

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Isaiah Thomas has one of the most inspirational stories in basketball history. Somehow in a sport of giants he has overcome all odds and almost averaged 30 points per game last season. He led the Celtics to a #1 seed in the playoffs.


It all started with a lost bet. Isaiah’s dad, a Lakers fan, told his friend if the Lakers lost to the Pistons in the 1989 finals, he would name his kid after Pistons legend Isiah Thomas. After the Pistons swept the Lakers James named his son Isiah Thomas. James Thomas’ wife changed the spelling to match the Bible way of spelling it.  Isaiah’s dad was 5’6 his grandpa was 5’6 and Isaiah is 5’9. As a kid I.T. was always smallest in his class. But because his dad loved basketball so much I.T. became consumed by the game.

James Thomas said “ Even when he was a toddler he would just carry a basketball around like Linus always carried his blanket”.

Isaiah’s 4th grade teacher called his parents because he refused to come in after recess because he was playing basketball. He explained he could only get better against the 6th graders.


In middle school, he rode city buses around Tacoma in search of the best games. If the gym required a membership he would try to sneak in because of his size. On weekends he would join his dad playing basketball against grown men. In these games Isaiah dominated. He was cocky and a smart aleck around them. These grown men were so mad of his dominance they wanted to fight them. One night Isaiah called his dad and said, “ Dad there is a bunch of men outside waiting to fight me because I just beat them.” (quotation from article by Layden, February 17, 2017, issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED). All he cared about was becoming a great basketball player.


In middle school he truly believed if he did not grow to be 6 feet tall he did not have a chance to make it to the NBA. When he went to the doctor his mom told them not to tell him what his height was going to be. When he would ask he would cry all the way home because he would never reach 6 ft tall. It got so bad he would hang from a pull up bar for hours. He was hoping he could stretch out his legs so he could be taller.   


Of course that didn’t work. As he got into high school he wanted his game to be like Steve Nash or Tony Parker. Thomas adapted to their playing style. He was trying to master the floater, which made the point guards elite. From there he learned some moves of his own. He learned if he drove his body into big men, he could overcome the massive height difference that used to plague him. He also learned no matter a player’s height a man could always excel off of jump shots. He also learned to have tremendous ball handling and dribbling skills.


This hard work led to a serious growth in Isaiah’s talent. Soon he began to surprise everyone. Every AAU or high school game seemed like the same story. Coaches and players would quickly write off the smallest man on the court. Only to find out moments later that the shortest player was the best player they have ever played against. Thomas became a legend as a sophomore in Washington. I.T. was filling gyms at Curtis High.They had  to bring his teams through the back door because the crowds were so big and they loved him that much. At 15 years old he was already friends with NBA players such as Jason Terry, Nate Robinson, and Jamal Crawford.


At Jason Terry’s dad’s AAU camp he became best friends with Jason’s brother. This friendship led Isaiah to Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford’s Summer League. That Summer league was loaded with NBA prospects.


Jamal Crawford said “Isaiah was just killing people. As a High School student he made people believe that despite his height maybe just maybe he could make it to the league.” (cited from the Boston Globe, April 17, 2015).


But if you thought the only struggle I.T. faced in his basketball journey was his height well think again. Fueled by the desire to be the best, Isaiah completely ignored school. It was so bad that he almost failed. He was forced to transfer to a prep school in Connecticut. There he had to repeat his Junior year. It was there 3,000 miles away from home Isaiah says he grew in to a NBA level prospect. He absolutely hated Connecticut but it was the best thing that ever happened to him. With nothing to do, his friends and family on the other side of the country, Isaiah ramped up his work ethic even more. His days in Connecticut were found in the gym, studying, or visiting Jamal or Nate in New York. Where he would learn even more tricks to take his game to the next level.


By the time he was ready to go to college, Isaiah had proven he was undeniably one of the best players in the country. In High School he averaged over 33 points. He scored over 50 points in the state playoffs. When matching up with 5 star prospects in AAU camps he dominated. But I.T. wasn’t a 5 star recruit. He wasn’t a Mcdonald’s All-American. He wasn’t seen as a future pro. He was a 3 star recruit. But yet again people doubted him. They wrote him off because of his height. They said he was too small to be a major college basketball player. He was ready to prove them all wrong. At Washington he quickly proved them all wrong. As a freshman he averaged 15 points per game and won PAC 10 freshman of the year. That season stories began of Isaiah’s insane work ethic and competitiveness. He spent hours in the gym. This need to become better rubbed off on his teammates.   


Just looking at his overall time at Washington it’s clear that Isaiah changed the culture and the program’s trajectory that year. In his junior year we find that the Washington Huskies matched up against the Washington State Cougars in a completely competitive game. During a timeout Isaiah really had to go to the bathroom. But he was afraid he would miss valuable minutes and the Huskies would go down in the game. Instead of going to the bathroom in a bathroom he told the trainers to get a bunch of towels so he could stuff them down his pants and pee all over them. Yep, the man would rather pee his pants then miss playing time.


Two people were interviewed for this article to get other opinions about Isaiah Thomas and his incredible story. Scott Norman, high school teacher, was asked if he thought Isaiah Thomas had an inspiring story. He answered, “I think it helps people to realize that they don’t really have excuses to hold them back.”


No surprise to anyone, a few weeks later in the PAC 10 tournament, Isaiah played in 123 out of 125 minutes and ended up hitting the game winner in overtime against Arizona to lead the Huskies to the PAC 10 championship game. In 3 seasons I.T. had led the Huskies to 3 PAC 10 championships. He was 2-time PAC 10 first team. He was one of the best players in the country. But still everyone doubted him. Looking back on his decision to leave for the draft 1 year early I.T. puts it, “Everyone was like, ‘What are you doing?’” But he had his mind made up.


After being taken with the last pick in the 2011 draft, he knew he was going to prove everyone wrong again. Which of course he did. I.T. was backing up Jimmer Ferdette, one of the worst busts in NBA history. Jimmer struggled with injuries but he averaged 7 points per game as a starting point guard. Whereas I.T. averaged 28.9 ppg last season. Isaiah beat out everyone for the starting point guard just 27 games into the season. From there he averaged over 20 points per game in his 3rd season. But even then he was still doubted by his own team. The Kings chose to let him walk and instead took Darren Collison because “He was a better passer”. I am so sorry Kings fans. Isaiah chose to sign with Phoenix. But again, he was still doubted, despite averaging 15 points per game in just 25 minutes. The Suns decided they no longer wanted I.T. because he wanted to be a starter. Phoenix thought he wasn’t good enough to be one. Isaiah began to have comfort in doubt because it drove him to be better. So then Isaiah was traded to the Boston Celtics, where finally he was given the chance he deserved.


Kevin Love accidently ran into Isaiah’s hip in the Eastern Conference Finals and Isaiah limped off the court. In the Summer Kyrie Irving requested a trade. The Celtics feared about his hip and they traded Isaiah for Kyrie because Isaiah wasn’t the PG of the future. Isaiah is hurt, but hopefully by January he will be fine.


When Tommy EngeI, recreation director and amature tournament basketball winner, was asked if Isaiah Thomas was injury prone, he replied, “No. His career has been healthy, but I feel he maybe he will become injury prone because hip injuries are hard to come back from.”


Isaiah Thomas proves if you work hard enough, if you dedicate yourself to follow your goals, you can be whatever you want to be. Isaiah couldn’t choose his height but he could choose his destiny. His destiny was to be an NBA all star and to be 1 of 10 NBA players in NBA history to average over 28 points, 5.5 assists and a 26 PER rating in 1 season. This list includes I.T., Larry Bird, Russell Westbrook, DWade, Oscar Robertson, MJ, Lebron, James Harden and Kobe! All Hall of Fame or future Hall of Fame! His destiny was to be the greatest player under 6ft tall. In this modern NBA where it seems to be the PG position is trending to taller people, Isaiah has just managed all odds and thrived. In game one of the NBA playoffs, when his sister died, he put up 33 points.


“When you get to the point that you are mentioned as a possible MVP and you have one of the highest selling jerseys in the league that qualifies as a superstar.” Scott Norman

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The inspiring story of Isaiah Thomas