by Brendan Bowers / @BowersCLE
Over the course of his 23 years, Isaiah Thomas has been fit with his fair share of labels. In response, time and time again, Thomas has proven and reproven that the tags attached to him don’t define him. An example: As a shorter-than-average player coming up, Thomas was often deemed “too short” and “too little” to be an impact player. But where others saw a small, undersized guard, Thomas saw angles, balance, speed. Being so close to the court allowed him routes to the basket that were unavailable to bigger players, allowed him to use his low center of gravity to tip toe by denser defenders, allowed him to turn on the jets and blaze around the court like a Maserati.
Last June, after his junior year, Thomas left Washington, a fully grown 5-9, and was taken with the 60th and final pick in the ’11 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. Thus a new label was applied: Mr. Irrelevant. A new label that, yet again, Thomas wouldn’t let define him.
In Sacto’s first regular-season game, a hard-fought win over the Lakers, Thomas not only got in the contest—something the ’09 and ’10 60th overall picks never did—he played more than 13 minutes and contributed 5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists. In his sixth game, he put up 15 and 5. And in his 11th contest, he scored 20 and had 6 assists. Thomas was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month in February. All big steps for a supposedly little, irrelevant man.
During the lockout-shortened season, Thomas played in 65 games, started 37, averaged 11.5 points and 4.1 assists, and finished seventh in ROY voting—all firsts for a Mr. Irrelevant.
“With Reebok’s support, the Kings and the Kings fans, they’ve really embraced me,” Thomas says. “Without them, I couldn’t be in this situation. They’ve helped me not only on court, but off the court as well.”
On the way to proving he’s worth his height in gold on the court, Thomas is equally as focused on his off-court legacy, as his Twitter bio reads: “If all I’m remembered for is being a good basketball player, then I’ve done a bad job with the rest of my life.”
In his quest to actualize those words, Thomas is staying busy. In addition to taking courses at Washington, where he’s on pace to graduate in July, he’s also involved in a slew of basketball camps that span the summer.
“I have the opportunity a lot of people don’t have,” Thomas says of the camps. “This is something I always wanted to do.”
Classes, camps—despite his NBA success, not much has changed for Thomas; that includes his preferred brand of kicks. “I wore Reeboks, and I always went to Reebok camps in the summer,” he recalls. “I’ve been to the legendary ABCD Camp, Reebok University and I also played on a couple Reebok-sponsored teams. So to be sponsored by Reebok now is just a blessing from God.”
While attending those camps, Isaiah could be found wearing the latest Iversons as he chased his NBA dream. “Back when I attended camps in the summer, Allen Iverson is a big reason why kids wore Reebok. Everybody wanted to be Allen Iverson.”
Now those same kids he’s engaging with in the summer all want to be Isaiah Thomas, the guy they saw wearing his own style of Reeboks on the NBA floor this past season, just like he saw Iverson do back in the day. “I had three pairs of customized Reeboks in Kings colors this season,” Thomas says. “Three pairs that I switched out every couple games, and they were great. They’re comfortable, light and they’re definitely what I need because I’m a small guy, so I need some comfortable shoes so I can get up and down the court.”
If Thomas caught anybody by surprise this season on his way up and down the court, he won’t next year. Which is why he’s training even harder this summer, all while completing those other legs in his personal marathon.
“Once the season is over, I go through it with a couple other people I work out with and pinpoint things I need to work on. This summer I’m doing a lot of CrossFit,” Thomas says of Reebok’s training program. “I really feel like it makes me a better basketball player on the court and will make me come even more ready for next season.
“The CrossFit program helped me a lot last season, so I’m focusing on it to help me again heading into my second year,” he continues. “It’s not too much heavy weightlifting like you would think though. CrossFit has a lot to do with your core and maintaining your body, which is what I’m trying to do.”
As Thomas continues plowing forward, continues exceeding expectations, continues shedding labels, he vows not to forget where this all started for him.
“I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for the people around me, and Rebook for trusting and signing me,” Thomas says. “I couldn’t thank them enough, because when other guys weren’t around, they stuck with me.”