Dime Q&A: Isaiah Thomas Talks Mentors, The Kings And Proving His Doubters Wrong

The Sacramento Kings experienced a lot of roster, and management, turnover this summer, letting Tyreke Evans go to New Orleans and bringing in Greivis Vasquez as well as finding a new owner, general manager and coach. The dreaded Maloof brothers no longer run the team and they’re staying in Sacramento. But Isaiah Thomas is still around, and we spoke with him by phone last month to talk about sneakers, the Kings and more.

Coming out of the University of Washington, Zeke — as many call him — was the last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft. But within that same rookie season, he’d taken over the full-time point guard duties on the Kings. He started 37 games in his first season and 62 last year, but the addition of Vasquez could mean Zeke returning to a back-up role like the one he filled right after coming out of college. Isaiah doesn’t mind if someone points this out though, it’s just more fuel for when he gets in the gym.

The 5-9 point guard spoke with us by phone to talk about his love for Reebok sneakers, growing up watching those epic Sonics teams in the Northwest, why he has a Mighty Mouse tattoo and much more.

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Dime: How did you get your start with Reebok and what separates them from other brands?
Isaiah Thomas: Probably just the retro look. Going back to the Allen Iverson‘s the Shaquille O’Neal‘s and the Emmitt Smith‘s. Stuff like that. Probably the retro look this year. It’s going in that direction this year. At one time Reebok was the top endorser and everybody wanted to wear Reebok’s so—when Allen Iverson was playing. I think it’s getting it’s swag back, and we do got some heat if we wanna put it out.

D: There have been a lot of re-releases this year. Do you have a favorite?
IT: I been in all the color Kamikaze’s. All the re-issues that’s coming out, I just was wearing the Kamikaze’s. As a kid when the Iverson’s were coming out. I used to be into the Reebok shoe: The Question and then The Answer, the Kamikaze was definitely my favorite shoe right now especially in the NBA.

D: Is a there a colorway you enjoy the most for the Kamikaze?
IT: Actually, Reebok made me customized Kings colorways, so white, purple, black grey were probably my favorites to get. They feature my kids’ names too, so that’s good.

D: We’ve noticed with the comfort and support it doesn’t always translate with the re-releases. Do you get special Reebok’s, player exclusives etc, for games with more comfort and support?
IT: Yeah, but with the Kamikaze’s they’re already comfortable to me anyway without that. The only one’s that aren’t so comfortable, like that I couldn’t wear on the court, are The Question’s and those are my favorite Reebok shoe of all time. I’m not—you might seen me in a couple Question’s this season because they might customize them, so—

D: So The Questions are your favorite of all-time, could you rank your top 5 Reebok sneakers?
IT: The Question is No. 1, The Kamikaze’s No. 2, Shaqnosis No. 3, and then—I like the Emmitt Smith’s as a football shoe—that came out earlier this year. And then the zip-up ones where Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue. Those round up my top 5.

D: Speaking of the Kamikaze’s, did you grow up watching Kemp since you’re from the Northwest?
IT: Oh yeah. Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. When he was dunking on people and pointing at them, he was doing it in Reebok’s. They were nice back then, and everybody loves them now.

D: How was it for you when there were all the rumors about going to Seattle or staying Sacramento? How did you stay out of it, since it was your hometown and your new town?
IT: Yeah it was tough. But at the same time I told people that I could only do what I could control and that’s when I play basketball. Whether we play in Seattle or Sacramento, I can’t control that. I didn’t know too much about it—other than what we read in newspapers and things like that. My job was on the court, not figure out where we were going to play. And now that it’s all said and done and over with, I’m just happy it’s over with because everybody back home kept asking me about coming to Seattle.

D: Is there a classic shoe you were hoping Reebok would re-release, but they haven’t done it yet?
IT: Not really. Iverson IV’s. The Shaqnosis. I never had them before and so that was one I was excited about since I didn’t have a pair yet.

D: What do you think about the Pumps?
IT: The Pumps are nice. I got a few pairs of the Dee Brown’s. Actually it’s funny because Dee Brown is our assistant coach, now. So I was asking him, ‘you still got a pair of those pumps?’ I forgot what he said, whether he has a few pairs. He probably does.

D: You mentioned the one’s Reebok did with your kids and stuff. Are those your favorites in terms of the Player Exclusives?
IT: Yeah, those are by far my favorites. They got some Swagget to ’em. Not everybody can get them, and it’s something when you walk in the gym, I get compliments on them all the time.

D: You get compliments?
IT: Yeah, all the time. And they ask, ‘Can I get a pair.’ ‘Nah, you can’t.’ Obviously you can’t have this one, I only got a few pairs of them.

D: So you think the fans are really digging the re-releases.
IT: Yeah, definitely. That’s when kids wore their [Reebok’s] shoes back then. The Iverson’s, the Kemp’s, and kids these days love retro, they love wearing things [that were cool] back in the day. It was smart of Reebok to do.

Click page 2 to hear what Zeke is doing this offseason to prepare for a new day in Sacramento.

D: What are you looking forward too next year? I know there’s been a lot of changes. Have you talked to your new coach [Mike] Malone?
IT: Yeah, I’ve talked to all of them. I was down in Vegas working out with the new coaching staff. I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s a fresh start. I mean three coaches in three years is basically [what I’ve encountered]. I’m just waiting for things to start. Hopefully things change around in Sacramento, and they change for the better. I’m excited.

D: We think the fact you got new owners will help.
IT: Definitely.

D: We were reading that you were working with Bobby Jackson on going to your left around the all-star game. Do you have specific components of your game that you’ve been working on over the summer?
IT: Yeah, this summer I’ve been working on my right hand. All with my right hand. Right hand passes; right hand passes out the pick-and-roll; finishing with my right off my left leg, and just all my moves that I’m good at going left, I’ve been working on going right. I’ve seen a lot of progress in that and I’m definitely getting better. So that was one thing I wanted to focus on while focusing on all the other things: my jump shot, my handle, but going right, finishing right and just getting my right hand just as good as my left hand.

D: Is that something you do every summer since you’ve been in the league? In terms of working on a specific component of your game each summer?
IT: Yeah. But at the same time I’m working on everything. In this league you gotta bring back something different every year. You gotta bring back something they haven’t seen, so you gotta be working really hard to do that.

D: Do you pay attention to the depth chart at all?
IT: First off, I’ll always do what’s best for the team. But second off, I’m competitive. I’ve been a starter—not since day 1—but since my rookie season. So that’s why I feel like I am. And I’m gonna prove to people that I’m a legitimate starter in the NBA and that I can lead a team to the playoffs. So that’s what I’m aiming for, that’s my goal. Nobody can take that from me.

D: As the last pick in the draft, and you were a starter within the year. Do you still look back at the draft and use it as motivation?
IT: A little bit. But that was more my first year of using that as motivation. But I still find little things here and there to use as motivation. When people say I’m not a legitimate starter in this league, I use that as motivation. It’s not on my mind too much anymore [being the last pick].

D: Do you read any of your own press to find motivation?
IT: Definitely. I love proving people wrong. People always say what I can’t do, but I read all that and use it as motivation each time I step in the gym. To prove somebody wrong, and that’s why I’ve made it as far as I have. That’s why I’m going to continue to progress.

D: You’re aware of all the Kings’ acquisitions this summer, but do you keep an eye out for what other teams are doing?
IT: Yeah. Yeah I kept an eye on a lot. I was waiting for my guy Nate Robinson to get signed, which he did. And I’m excited to see him in Denver. Other than that, not a whole lot. One of my mentors, Jason Kidd, is with the Nets. I’m a sports fanatic, so I’m reading NBA.com or ESPN every day, so I like reading the news of what’s going on in the summer.

D: Do you think there were any big moves this summer that will change the league?
IT: Greg Oden to Miami, that was a big one. All he got to do is play defense and rebound, and he doesn’t need to do anything else, so that’ll be good. The Brooklyn Nets, they’re old, but they’re still going to be good with all the players that they got. I’m anxious to see how the Lakers are gonna do. I’m anxious to see how Houston does, but at the same time I’m anxious to see how the Kings are gonna do. I’m anxious to see how competitive we’re going to be, and if we can make that jump.

Click page 3 to read who Isaiah modeled his game after and how he handles trade rumors.

D: Were you at all close with Tyreke before he left?
IT: Yeah. I was actually with Tyreke a couple weeks ago. He came to Seattle to play in the Jamal Crawford Pro-Am All Star Game, so I’ll talk with him throughout the summer. We’re very close, but he had to make a business decision, and I hope all is well for him.

D: We know your name had been swirling around trade rumors a little bit near the draft. How do you prepare for being traded? Like, let’s say you’re traded, how do you prepare—or are you always just ready to go?
IT: You gotta be prepared. You can’t get too comfortable because anything could happen. You could get put in a trade, or whatever could happen. But you just got to be ready. You gotta understand the culture of the game and know that it is a business, so you don’t know what’s gonna happen. You gotta always been on your toes and be ready for the next move. But at the same time, you gotta be focused on doing what you do where you’re at now.

D: Do you think your late draft status has kept you hungrier than other players with all the guaranteed money [Thomas’ contract wasn’t fully guaranteed this past season until October]?
IT: Yeah, I think it does help. At the same time it’s about your individual mindset, what you want to do with your career. How do you want to be known as. I wanna be known as one of the greatest little guys that’s ever done it, so no matter whether things are guaranteed for me, I’m still gonna work hard and continue to try and get better to be in the best place I can possible be.

D: Besides Nate, who are some of your favorite players growing up that you modeled your game after?
IT: First and foremost, Damon Stoudemire. That’s the guy I modeled my game after. That was my favorite player. I got a tattoo of Mighty Mouse. Even though he’s a bigger type of guard, Nick Van Exel is a guy I loved watching back then. Just watching the highlights of Muggsy Bogues, Earl Boykins, those type of guys that had great careers out of the NBA, and were only 5-7, 5-8.

D: The first two guys are lefty. Were you left-handed growing up, or did you actually adopt it to mimic those guys?
IT: I was a lefty growing up. And watching Damon all the time I just loved his game. I just felt like that was the closest thing to me. I talk to Damon all the time to this day, so it’s actually a blessing [being left-handed] for him to be one of my mentors.

D: Did you make it a point to reach out to guys like Damon to create those relationships?
IT: Well I knew Damon from college, so I’ve known him for a while through Jason Terry. But when I did get to the NBA, I reached out to Muggsy Bogues; he got into contact with me and we talked numerous times, so those are the guys I did reach out to see how they had successful careers and what they do.

D: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from some of those guys?
IT: Just to continue to work. You gotta work. This is your profession, this is your job, and this is how you feed your family, so you gotta continue to work at it. Stay professional no matter what’s going on. Be a good person to everyone. That’s the best advice they’ve given me.

D: What’s the biggest difference about playing in the NBA that you didn’t realize before getting here?
IT: That it’s all mental.What do you think?

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