Thomas lived his dream to the tune of 12 NBA All-Star Game appearances, a pair of NBA championships, and an induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Now what? Thomas once asked his wife she thought there was basketball in heaven. If not, he had a plan.
Isiah Thomas was inspired by the Harlem Globetrotters
During his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2000, Thomas reflected on his days as a child. He recalled heading off to see the Globetrotters and being inspired by them. At that point, he knew he wanted to be a basketball player.
“I remember the Harlem Globetrotters put on a show,” Thomas said. “I’ll never forget Curly Neal and Marques Haynes dribbling that basketball. They were dribbling like they were playing the piano. I said to myself that day, ‘I’m gonna learn how to do that.’
“Went home and got a milk crate, and I set it in front of the house. I wasn’t tall enough to hang it on anything, and I got my basketball, and I went to dribbling and shooting it in the milk crate. I was even dunking then. But that inspired me. That day gave me the power to dream, the power to hope, and the power to be.”
That inspiration resulted in a 13-year NBA career for a man many believed was the best pure point guard of his day. Don Nelson, the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, was one of those believers.
“Isiah is the most perfect point guard in the game today,” Nelson said in 1987, according to Sports Illustrated. “When you’re talking about the true point guard, the smaller guard, Isiah is the most perfect.”
Isiah Thomas wondered if there was basketball in heaven
As Thomas grew older, basketball became life. It was all he did. It was all he wanted to do. Back in his playing days, he said basketball was his way of dealing with everything.
“I’m in love with basketball,” Thomas said. “It’s my release. It’s my outlet. If I get mad, I go shoot. It’s my freedom, and it’s my security. It’s my drug, my high, and it’s my nowhere. When I’m playing, I’m nowhere. Nothing else exists. Nothing else matters. You see, nothing else goes on when you’re nowhere. I just let it flow.”
One day at home, he and his wife, Lynn, began talking. They spoke about religion, and the conversation turned to the afterlife.
“Lynn, do you think they have basketball in heaven?” he asked.
Lynn said she believed there was, indeed, basketball at the next level.
“I sure hope they do,” Isiah said. “They’ve got to have some form of recreation up there. I mean, sitting around eating grapes would be cool for a while, but you have to have something to do. I sure do hope they play ball. If not, I’ll be the Naismith of heaven.”
Thomas always wanted to take his game to the next level
It’s hard to get better when people already considered you the best. For Thomas, there was no satisfaction if he was perceived as the best. He wanted more.
“Being the best, how do you get to the next level?” he asked in 1987. “It’s like I make a move, I have my guy beat, and then I’ll have a shot. But then I see another guy and I want to go and take him on, fake him out! It’s too easy to beat the first guy.
“Some people say I’m the best guard in the game. But how do you get to the next level? What is the next level? There must be something higher you can go to. Why are you still playing? See, it’s boring to be simple all the time. I’ve been doing that all my life. I want more. I want more out of the game.”
Thomas squeezed as much as he could out of basketball. He’s hoping to get even more once his time runs out here.