It’s insane to think that only two full NBA seasons ago, Isaiah Thomas averaged 28.9 ppg for the Boston Celtics. The sixth man-turned All-NBA Second Team star was well on his way to securing a max contract…until he suffered a torn labrum. The hip injury not only prevented IT from becoming a 100-million dollar man, but prompted the Celts—whom the point guard elevated from rebuilding franchise to title contender—to trade him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving.
The shocking deal brought to light one of the NBA's harshest truths. That loyalty is a worthless currency. Naturally, the 30-year-old commends Anthony Davis for flexing his influence as one of the best ballers in the world to force a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“If you have power, you might as well use it,” IT tells Complex. “Owners and GM's are going to use their power when that opportunity presents itself, so I'm all for players…controlling their own destiny.”
In the midst of the most hectic free agency week we’ve ever witnessed, Thomas quietly inked a one-year deal with the Washington Wizards—a team in desperate need of a point guard with John Wall expected to be out all of 2019-20 and the trade of Tomas Satoransky. It’s the best situation Isaiah’s found himself in since Boston, and we’ve all seen what he can do when given the right opportunity.
Two hours before free agency kicked off, we chopped it up with IT to discuss this year’s Hoopfest, the AD mega-trade, KD’s injury, his tight bond with Nipsey Hussle, and more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Can you tell me about Hoopfest and your involvement in the tournament this year?
I'm partnering with Guardian Life. Their whole thing is “Disability is not inability,” and they’re supporting wheelchair basketball, 3-on-3, out here. When they reached out to my agency, and I found out what they were about, I felt like it was a positive thing for me to do because no matter what their situation has been in a wheelchair, they've pushed through. They play basketball, they have fun, they play hard, they compete. They do it with a smile on their face.
I'm out here supporting them. Just want them to know that they got my support, and I got so much respect for them. I’m also out here just to watch basketball. This the biggest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world. No matter what age, gender—male, female—this is the place to be this weekend.
What does that phrase, “Disability is not inability” mean to you?
I think it means no matter what you're going through, you can do anything you want in life. I love that motto. No matter what you're going through—it don't matter if you have a disability—you keep going. You can play basketball, you can do things that everybody does, and you just make adjustments and figure it out. The [wheelchair] game is so physical. It might be more physical than [NBA] ball.
The event is going down in Washington, your home state, which has a tremendous lineage of basketball players. If you had to field a starting line-up of the best ballers to ever come out of Washington, who'd be in it?
I really have to pay homage to the older guys that have done it before me, so I’d go: Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Brandon Roy, Doug Christie, and... Imma go with myself.
You’ve got to!
[Laughs]. For sure, no doubt. But there are so many great basketball players from the state of Washington, it’s no disrespect. So many can be in that starting five, but that’s just mine.
You think Michael Porter Jr. might make that starting five one day? He was out his entire rookie year, but there’s been a lot of positive buzz surrounding him. Being a teammate of his last season, what can you tell us about his talents and his ceiling?
I feel like if he’s able to get healthy, like he's aiming to get, and how hard he works, he's going to be a special talent. He's going to be a superstar in his league, if he's able to get 100 percent healthy. That's where his talent level is at. He's one of the most talented people I've ever seen. And that goes back when we used to play basketball in Seattle.
In high school, he was competing with NBA guys and outperforming them. And then I've been able to rehab with him all season long and be able to work with him. Play 3-on-3. He’s one of the most special talents you're going to see. He’s in the mold of a Kevin Durant. Not to compare the two because Kevin Durant has accomplished so much, but that’s the mold I see him fitting in.
It’s funny, with all of the other guys coming into the league this year—Zion, RJ Barrett, Ja Morant—I think a lot of people have forgotten about Porter. And this will technically be his rookie season.
Yeah, he's definitely forgotten about, but at the same time, he's unbelievable. That’s why I’m saying, if he's able to get even 80-90 percent healthy, he's going to be special.
Speaking of Zion, Ja, and RJ—the top three picks in this year’s draft—who do you think will wind up being the best?
They all gonna be special. They're very talented, but we've never seen nothing like Zion. We got to see how his talent translates to the NBA, but from what everybody has seen so far, we really haven't seen a player like that. So he's got to be very special.
You said in that famous Players’ Tribune piece back in 2017 that, “The Boston Celtics let me have a chance to be great, and I'll never forget that.” Who is somebody you can look at in the league today and say, "You know what, this guy has never been given the chance to be great, he can really ball out"?
I mean a lot of them. It’s all about opportunity and situation. If you're put in the right situation to be successful... Everybody in the league is talented, which is not to say that everybody could be a superstar, but most guys would take their game to a level that people didn't think they could. I've been able to play at a high level most of my career, no matter what the situation is, but once the situation presented itself, I was ready for that moment. If it ever comes back around, I'll be ready again to be able to play at that level.
Nipsey is the only person I listen to, for real. But my favorite song right now is “Victory Lap,” the first song on his debut album. It's one of those songs that, everything about it—if you really listen to it—is special.
In that same article, you also discussed power dynamics in the league between the player and organization. You said that owners and GM's wield the power pretty much all of the time, unless dudes are free agents. So it made me wonder, how did you view Anthony Davis essentially forcing a trade to the Lakers this year?
If you have power, you might as well use it. I was fortunate enough to play with LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player to ever play. And you see how much power he has, and him using it in a positive manner, at all times. I feel like guys are understanding how much power they got, so why not use it? The owners and GM's are going to use their power that they have when that opportunity presents itself, so I'm all for players knowing the power that they got and being able to control their own destiny.
A common feeling among fans was that they felt like AD had a stranglehold on the Pelicans’ organization. How would you respond to that?
The best players got the most power. I think players are starting to realize that. They can take these things into their own hands. With the relationships they’ve built, they can do whatever they possibly want to.
In the Finals this year, KD suffered that really devastating Achilles injury. There was so much chatter about whether the Warriors handled the situation correctly, if they pushed him to come back too soon. Jalen Rose said that social media and a culture of hyper-masculinity surrounding sports bullied him into playing. As someone who has suffered a major injury yourself, how did you view the various responses to KD’s torn achilles?
It’s hard for me to comment on that because I don't know the gist of the situation. I don’t know if he was forced to play. Did he decide to play on his own? Did he know the pros and cons of playing or not? So I can't comment on it because I don't know the ins and outs of the whole situation.
But I know more players are gonna start looking out for themselves and their bodies, rather than playing, as you seen what Kawhi Leonard did [two years ago] after his injury. I think my injury started it as to where we got the power to tell [teams] whether we want to play or not. But every situation is different.
What advice would you offer KD as he goes through his rehab?
I would just say it's a slow burn. He's had major injuries before though with the surgery on his feet I think, so he knows that you do have some dark days. Rehab is tough. It tests you mentally, physically, but if you have an overall goal or an end goal that you want to achieve, you gon’ do whatever it takes to reach that.
Nipsey's passing really hit everyone hard. It's clear how close the two of you were with all the love that you’ve showed him on social media. Why do you think you guys were able to develop such a tight bond over the years?
Because our lives and stories connect. That's plain and simple what it was. Our careers went to the top at the same time. We respected each other, the love was genuine between the two of us, and when I met him back in 2008, it was all love from both sides. As authentic and as real as it gets. He was one of the most inspirational people the world will ever see. He was that special, and I think people were just starting to realize that.
It’s incredible how many of those types of stories have come to light about Nipsey. People had so much love for him and still do. I wanted to ask, what’s your favorite Nipsey song? Or perhaps one you find yourself listening to a lot?
I love all his music. Nipsey is the only person I listen to, for real. But my favorite song right now is “Victory Lap,” the first song on his debut album. It's one of those songs that, everything about it—if you really listen to it—is special.
“Grinding All My Life” is such a banger, too.
I listen to that one before games. That's one of the songs that hit home for me. I remember him sending me that song before it came out, and I was like, that's basically what we've both been doing for so long. Now it's coming to light.
Turning our attention to this upcoming season, what are some of your goals?
My goal is to be put in the right situation. All I need is the opportunity, and I'll do the rest. Like I've done before, I really just want a legit opportunity. If I'm able to do that, I’ll show that I can play at a high level still.
When you went back to Boston last year, they gave you a very moving tribute at the TD Garden. At any point in your career, would you be open to returning there?
You never know. You can't predict the future, anything can happen. We'll see, you never know.