Do you remember Zeke? Turns out Zeke is Isiah Thomas' alto ego. Bill Laimbeer gave Isiah that name when he was a rookie. That was a time when Isiah loved and appreciated living his boyhood dream of playing in the NBA.
Isiah Thomas was a great high school basketball player and an even better college player. He led Indiana University coached by Bobby Knight to the NCAA championship in just his sophomore year and was named Most Outstanding Player.
He was selected on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team in 1980 but never competed because of the U.S. boycott. After his sophomore year he entered the NBA draft and was the 2nd overall pick behind Mark Aguirre by the Detroit Pistons.
He made the All-Star team as a rookie and was so happy and excited to play with all the other all-stars of the NBA. He was even a little nervous in his first all-star game that he shot an air ball from the free throw line.
Zeke was living the life. His then best friend Magic Johnson would talk about how they loved playing in the NBA and all that came with being great pros. Magic and Isiah were such good friends that Magic had a room in his own house for Isiah.
But a funny thing happened on his way to his first NBA championship, Zeke became Isiah. Isiah watched Magic win championships while his Pistons were eliminated by the Boston Celtics. He watched Jordan become Air Jordan and receive great accolades that he probably felt should be bestowed upon him.
There are many negative stories told about Isiah and how he treated others around him. There's the story of his jealousy towards Jordan and how he conspired to freeze Jordan out of his first all-star game.
There was the comment he made that if Bird wasn't a white guy he would be considered a good player not at great player. There was the rumor of him being instrumental in the trade that sent Adrian Dantley to the declining Dallas Mavericks for his good friend Mark Aguirre.
There was the display of unsportsmanship when he and a number of Detroit Pistons headed into the locker room with three minutes left in the game so he wouldn't have to congratulate Jordan and his teammates during the playoffs.
All this added up to him being left off the Dream Team. Isiah should have been on that team. It doesn't seem right that he was not a part of that team. Obviously his colleagues didn't like him anymore.
He had burned too many bridges. His NBA friends didn't like him anymore. There was something wrong and it couldn't be everyone else, it had to be Isiah. There were no more kisses at half court from Magic. There was no more of that beautiful smile that Isiah would flash. Now his smile seemed more sinister than happiness. Isiah would retire after he tore his Achilles tendon in 1994.
After retiring Isiah would become part owner and executive vice president for the expansion Toronto Raptors. He left the organization after a dispute with new management over the franchise's direction.
Isiah became the owner of the CBA and that fiasco ended with the CBA going bankrupt and folding. Isiah was blamed for undermining the CBA to make room for the NBA-owned NBDL.
Isiah moved on as coach of the Indiana Pacers where many felt he underachieved because he was an inexperienced coach. He was fired when Larry Bird was hired as President of Basketball Operations. No surprise there, no one really likes Isiah and no one expected Larry Bird to keep Isiah on as coach.
In 2003 Isiah was hired as President of Basketball Operations by my New York Knicks. He was instrumental in bringing Stephon Marbury to the Knicks. In 2005-2006 the Knicks had the highest payroll in the league and the worst record. Isiah treated veteran coaches Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown with such disrespect that I couldn't even look at him.
At this point Isiah had worn out his welcome in New York. But it didn't end there. Isiah decided if you want a job done right you have to do it yourself. So, he decided he would coach the Knicks himself. He traded future draft picks for the underachieving Eddy Curry. He allegedly instigated a brawl with the Denver Nuggets and the Knicks when he ordered his players to commit hard fouls.
Isiah was often greeted by the New York fans with the chant of "fire Isiah." Knick fans were critical of Isiah and rightly so, we had had enough of is overpaying players, no wins and his smug attitude.
In 2008 Donnie Walsh replaced Isiah as President of Basketball Operations of the Knicks. After a dismal season Walsh told Isiah that he would not return as coach but would be a part of the Knicks organization and was banned from having contact with the Knick players.
As a parting gift from the Knicks organization he was sued for sexual harassment and had a falling out with "his best player" Stephon Marbury who was also involved in the harassment suit.
Now Isiah is back on the bench at Florida International University. Is this his way of redeeming his name? Will Isiah get back to the love of the game he once had when he first came into the NBA?
Isiah was great a player and somewhere along the way he lost the love. He became a smug egotistical guy. He's never included in the picture of greats like Bird, Magic and Jordan. Isiah should always be mentioned when we talk about great guards of the NBA because he was great. Something happend on his way to his first championship.
I used to love Isiah as a player and somehow I can always forget about him when the words "great guards of the NBA" are mentioned and that shouldn't be. Isiah is easily one of the best guards in the NBA. He wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame if he weren't.
I hope at FIU Isiah gets his Zeke on. I loved Zeke.
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