Before Thursday night, Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas had never been to New York City’s famed Rucker Park. But that doesn’t mean the locals didn’t recognize him instantly. The Sac-Town spark-plug has made a name for himself by wrecking dudes twice his size and rising from last-pick-in-the-Draft to NBA starter, despite playing for a Kings team forever in turmoil—both on the court and off.
So when he accepted the offer to make an appearance at The Rucker alongside Shawn Kemp on behalf of Reebok, Thomas didn’t flinch. “Once they brought it up, I was like, Yeah I’m doing it,” IT said before suiting up. “Experience of a lifetime,” he called it later.
Moments prior to lacing up his Reebok Kamikaze IIs in honor of Kemp, Thomas spoke with SLAM about his sneakers, goals for 2013, the Kings new ownership and of course, facing his homie Nate Robinson in a new uniform this season. Our conversation is below.
SLAM: First of all, what’s it like hanging out with Shawn?
Isaiah Thomas: I’ve known Shawn for years, just being in the Seattle area, hooping with all the NBA guys up in that area. I’ve known Shawn and Gary Payton for a while, since I was in high school. He’s been one of my mentors and a guy that every time I see him, he spits game to me. He always talks about back in high school when he came to see me drop 50 points. When we were walking here, that’s what he was saying, like this year we gotta get back to that. He’s a great guy, great mentor and somebody I look up to.
SLAM: What’s it like to be rocking his sneakers?
IT: Just paying homage, man. I feel like everywhere I go, Seattle’s with me. The SuperSonics. Everybody knows. Reigman, he’ll dunk on you and point at you, all that. It’s just paying homage. And the shoe looks good, that’s half the battle. He’s one of the best power forwards to every play the game.
SLAM: Is it weird though, being a point guard and wearing a big man’s shoe?
IT: It is, especially when I wear the Shaqs, though, that’s real weird. I don’t even feel like I can wear those [laughs]. These are more style, and you can wear them with some jeans or hoop in them. You feel like Shawn Kemp when you have them on.
SLAM: Are you excited about the Kings’ new ownership?
IT: Yeah. It’s a new future, man, something to look forward to. It feels like things are changing around there, with the new ownership. I’m excited, it’s going to be a new beginning. My third coach in three years, but it’s all good. Everything happens for a reason. I’m excited for the future and hopefully things turn around.
SLAM: Was that at all awkward for you, being a Seattle guy while all the talk about moving the team was going on?
IT: It was, it was a little awkward, because I got the question everywhere I went. I just told people, the only thing I can do is play basketball. I can’t control what happens. Either or. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play at home? I love Sacramento, and I love back home. It would have been a win-win situation for me, either way.
SLAM: Have you gotten a chance to talk to your new head coach Mike Malone?
IT: A little bit, down at Summer League, we were just talking, he just wants me to be me. Do whatever I’ve been doing and just keep at it. I can’t wait to get things going and to start training camp and just get after it.
SLAM: Do you have goals, like starting?
IT: Yeah, that’s my goal—to be the starting point guard, and let it be known that I’m a legitimate starter in this league and showcase my skills. But at the same time, I’m willing to do anything that’s best for the team, especially if it has to do with winning.
SLAM: How’s your summer been so far?
IT: It’s been good, just working out, being around my two kids and just working. I’ve been back home, been to Sacramento a few times, but also doing camps. I’ve been busy but it’s been fun.
SLAM: What was your reaction to your boy Nate Robinson signing with the Nuggets?
IT: That was cool, man. You’ve never really seen two little guys play together like Tywon Lawson and Nate. It’s going to be a different atmosphere but it’s going to be good. Tywon Lawson is a hell of a player and my guy Nate Robinson is one of the most talented guys—man, we play them the first game of the season. For the last two years—last year, we played Chicago the first game and this year the Nuggets. It’s going to be fun, those games are always fun.