Perhaps the coolest part of Reebok‘s recent emphasis on their Classic division is the way they’ve bridged the generational gap. You won’t find a better illustration than at Rucker Park in Harlem on Thursday night, where six-time NBA All-Star Shawn Kemp shared the spotlight with Kings guard and fellow Seattle favorite son Isaiah Thomas â€“ who was born four months before Kemp was drafted by the SuperSonics.
Thomas was there to hang with Kemp to celebrate the release of his “Letter of Intent” edition of the Kamikaze 2. He was also ecstatic to take in the scene at the finals of the Reebok EBC Entertainers Classic, but not before lacing up a pair of Kamikazes and trying his hand in a pickup game on the legendary court at Rucker.
“I never played here, so it’s a little surreal for me,” Thomas said prior to taking the court. “I’m excited. I mean, it’s kind of like your first NBA game, you don’t know what to expect. I’ve played at parks, but I’ve never played at Rucker Park. This is legendary, man.”
With a standing room only crowd that isn’t shy voicing criticisms, it was a somewhat intimidating scenario. But anyone familiar with the 5-9 Thomas’ mercurial career at the University of Washington and with the Sacramento Kings wouldn’t be surprised to hear he rose to the occasion, getting to the rim at will and quickly becoming a crowd favorite.
Dime caught up with Thomas before his game to discuss the saga of the Kings’ near-move close to his hometown of Tacoma, Wash., his outlook for the coming season, his friendship with Kemp and â€“ of course â€“ the story behind his unique name.
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Dime: You’ve been working with Reebok, specifically with Shawn Kemp, for a couple of years. What has that mean to you?
Isaiah Thomas: Oh, it means everything. It’s funny, once I signed with Reebok, and they were talking about focusing more on retros and bringing back the Shawn Kemps and all that, Shawn Kemp is actually a good friend of mine. I’ve known him since I was in high school; he’s somebody that always gives me good advice. And to have his shoe come back out, you’ve got to pay homage to one of the best power forwards to do it. What he did, he did it with style with the great shoes, the dunks on you, pointing at you and all that. He’s a hell of a player and a good person.
Dime: Given your ties to the Seattle area, I found it interesting you were kind of caught in the middle with your team potentially moving there. How was that for you, given the relationship you’re forging with the Sacramento area?
IT: Like I always tell people, I can’t control that. I can only control going out there and playing as hard as possible, and do what I do on the basketball court. Because people were like, “Man, don’t you want to come to Seattle?” or “Don’t you want to stay in Sacramento?” And I mean, I can’t control it. I’m in the middle, but at the same time, it was a win-win situation for me. I love Sacramento, staying there, and who wouldn’t want to play back home? So it was something that at the end of the day was a win-win for me, but I’m just glad it’s over with.
Dime: What do you think about the new direction the Kings franchise has taken this summer?
IT: Good, man. I think we’re going to turn things around. The new ownership and coaching staff is really heading in a positive direction, bringing new guys in, drafting Ben McLemore. I think the coaching has changed a little bit, and I hope it does, because I’m excited for what the ownership and coaching staff has in store for the future. I just can’t wait until the season starts.
Dime: It seems like you’ve been on the verge of truly breaking out, but haven’t quite got there yet. Do you think this year will be your opportunity to shine?
IT: No doubt. It’s your third year; you’ve got to show improvement each and every year, but your third and fourth years are kind of your biggest years. I’m just going to show everybody what I’ve been working on this summer, and I’m going to prove to the world that I’m a legitimate starting point guard in this league. And I’m just going to go out there and do whatever I can to make my team better each and every day, and win more ballgames first and foremost.
Dime: Going into your third year, do you keep a chip on your shoulder based on being the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft?
IT: Not really. That was just something extra. Being passed up by every team not once but maybe twice and being the last pick in the Draft made me more motivated to prove people wrong, but at the same time, my whole life I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, so it’s nothing different. People talk about being the 60th pick, but I don’t even think about it anymore. After you’re drafted, everyone’s even again.
Dime: Does that attitude come from being 5-9?
IT: It definitely comes from my size. The drive and motivation to prove people wrong comes from people always telling me what I couldn’t do. “You’re not going to go to a top D1 college, you’re not going to make it in the NBA” â€“ now they’re saying, “You’re not going to have a long career in the NBA.” So it’s always something I have to prove to people just because I’m 5-9, but I understand that.
I always look at my height as an advantage, no matter what. People might say, “He’s too small,” but tall guys don’t want to guard small people, fast people. I like to use my quickness and my leverage as an advantage.
Dime: I know Reebok has some strong ties to the CrossFit workout program, and I heard you were using that to prepare for last season. I’ve done some CrossFit in the past, and it’s pretty crazy. How would you describe it?
IT: That’s… the toughest workout I’ve ever had. By far! It’s something I haven’t done since — because it’s so tough — but it’s definitely a great workout. If you try it, and you stick with it, you’ll stay in shape and it’s really good for you. Like I said, I tried it in Boston with Reebok, and it killed me!
Dime: You ever get sick at the end of a workout? CrossFit is famous for that.
IT: I didn’t! (Pause) But I had to stop a few times before I would get sick, like, “I’ve got to stay off this rep.” The cameras were on while we were doing it, so I was like, “Nah, I’m not going to have that happen out here.”
Dime: I’ve always loved this, but some people might not know about it. How did your father give you your name?
IT: He lost a bet, actually. He’s a big Lakers fan, and he made a bet with his best friend that if Detroit beat the Lakers (in the 1989 Finals), then he’d name his son Isaiah after Isiah Thomas. There’s two ways to it, though. My mom actually liked the name, but she grew up in church, and that’s why it’s spelled the biblical way. People always ask me that, but it’s all fun and games.
Dime: And it could definitely be worse than having the same pronunciation as one of the best point guards ever.
IT: Oh, definitely. I’m fine with my name now because I made it to the NBA, but everywhere I go, people always ask. “Is that your dad?” (Laughs) I always say, “No, we’re not related, though I am good friends with him.”
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