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.