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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For people with the same or similar name, see Isiah Thomas (disambiguation)
Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas during his head coaching tenure with the Knicks.
Title Head coach
College Florida International
Sport Basketball
Conference Sun Belt
Born April 30, 1961 (1961-04-30) (age 48)
Career highlights
Playing career
1981-1994 Detroit Pistons
Position Point guard
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Florida International
New York Knicks
Indiana Pacers
Isiah Thomas
Position(s) Point guard
Jersey #(s) 11
Born April 30, 1961 (1961-04-30) (age 48)
Career information
Year(s) 1981–1994
NBA Draft 1981 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2
College Indiana University
Professional team(s)
Career stats (NBA)
Points     18,822 (19.2 ppg)
Assists     9,061 (9.3 apg)
Steals     1,861 (1.9 spg)
Stats @
Career highlights and awards
Basketball Hall of Fame as player

Isiah Lord Thomas III (nicknamed "Zeke"[1]) (pronounced /aɪˈzeɪ.ə/; born April 30, 1961) is the men's basketball coach for the FIU Golden Panthers, and a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1981 until 1994. He led the "Bad Boys" to the NBA Championship in the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons. After his playing career, he was an executive with the Toronto Raptors, a television commentator, an executive with the Continental Basketball Association, head coach of the Indiana Pacers, and an executive and head coach for the New York Knicks. During the NBA's 50th anniversary, he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.


Early life and college career

Isiah Thomas was born on April 30, 1961, in Chicago, Illinois. The youngest of nine brothers and sisters, he commuted from the North Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago to play high school basketball at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois for Gene Pingatore.[2] He would wake up at 5 am and commute 90 minutes to attend the private school.[2] During his junior year, he led St. Joseph to the State Finals.[citation needed] He played for Bob Knight's Hoosiers at Indiana University. In 1981, Thomas led the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament National Championship and earned the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. After accomplishing this in his sophomore season, Thomas made himself eligible for the NBA Draft.

NBA playing career

In the 1981 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons chose Thomas with the #2 pick and signed him to a four-year $1.6 million contract. Thomas made the All-Rookie team and started for the Eastern Conference in the 1982 All-Star Game.

In the opening round of the 1984 NBA Playoffs, Thomas and the Pistons faced off against Bernard King and the New York Knicks. In the pivotal fifth game, Thomas was having a subpar performance, while Bernard King was having an excellent game. However, Thomas scored 16 points in the last 94 seconds to force the game into overtime. King and the Knicks, however, held on to win in overtime.

In the 1985 NBA Playoffs, Thomas and his team went to the conference semi-finals against the 15-time NBA champion Boston Celtics led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson. Detroit couldn't shake the Celtics in their six-game series, eventually losing.

In the 1987 NBA Playoffs, Thomas and the Pistons went to the Eastern Conference Finals and faced the Boston Celtics. It was the farthest the team had advanced since moving from Fort Wayne when they were the Zollner-Pistons. The Pistons were able to tie the Celtics at two games apiece. Detroit's hope of winning Game 5 was dashed at the Boston Garden with seconds remaining in a play by Larry Bird: Thomas attempted to quickly inbound the ball, Larry Bird stole the inbound pass and passed it to Dennis Johnson for the game-winning layup.

In 1988, the Pistons' first trip to the Finals saw them face the Los Angeles Lakers, who were led by Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Prior to the series, Thomas and Johnson would exchange a courtside kiss on the cheek prior to tip-off as a sign of their deep friendship. After taking a 3-2 series lead back to Los Angeles, Detroit appeared poised to win their first NBA title in Game 6.

One of Thomas' most inspiring and self-defining moments came in Game 6. Although he had severely sprained his ankle late in the game, Thomas continued to play. While hobbling and in obvious pain, Isiah scored 25 points in a single quarter of the game, an NBA Finals record. However, the Lakers won the game 103-102 on a pair of last-minute free throws by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar following a foul called on Bill Laimbeer. With Isiah Thomas unable to compete at full strength the Lakers were able to take advantage and narrowly clinched their second consecutive title in Game 7, 108-105.

In the 1988-89 season, Thomas, along with fellow teammates Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson, Dennis Rodman, James Edwards, John Salley, Bill Laimbeer, and Mark Aguirre, guided his team to a then-franchise record 63-19 record. Detroit played a brash and dominating brand of basketball through the playoffs that led to their nickname "Bad Boys". With Boston's injuries persisting, the Pistons defeated Michael Jordan and the up and coming Chicago Bulls in the Conference Finals, to set up an NBA Finals rematch with the Lakers. Thomas and the Pistons then won their first of back-to-back championships when they defeated the Lakers in a 4-game sweep. The following year, Thomas was voted NBA Finals Most Valuable Player of the 1990 NBA Finals after averaging 27.6 points per game, 7.0 assists per game, and 5.2 rebounds per game in the series with Clyde Drexler's Portland Trail Blazers. The Pistons continued to play well between 1991 and 1993 but were not able to return to the NBA Finals as they were eclipsed by the growing Chicago Bulls dynasty. An aging and ailing Thomas decided to end his career at the end of the 1994 season, but he tore his Achilles' tendon in April 1994, forcing him to end his career as a player a month earlier.

Thomas, a 6-1, 185-pound point guard, ranks as one of the best players of all-time. His toughness and competitive fire won many admirers as well as adversaries over the years. He was named to the All-NBA First team three times and is the Pistons' all-time leader in points, steals, games played and assists. Thomas ranks fifth in NBA history in assists (9,061, 9.3 apg) and ranks ninth in NBA history in steals (1,861). Thomas was known for his dribbling ability as well as his ability to drive to the basket and score. His #11 was retired by the Detroit Pistons.

International career

Thomas was selected to the 1980 Olympic team, but like all American athletes he was not able to play in Moscow due to the Olympics boycott. The boycotting countries instead participated in the gold medal series, a series of games against NBA teams, a French team and the 1976 Olympic gold medal team in various U.S. cities, recording a 5-1 record (losing to the Seattle SuperSonics). Isiah shot 22-55 from the field and 14-17 from the line. He led the U.S. in assists with 37 (the next highest total on the team was 17) and averaged 9.7 points per game.[3]

Despite his talent, Thomas was left off the original Olympic Dream Team, possibly as a result of his alleged feud with Michael Jordan.[4] After Tim Hardaway left the team due to injury he was named to Dream Team II for the 1994 World Championship of Basketball, but did not play due to his Achilles tendon injury that caused his retirement.[4] He was replaced by Kevin Johnson. In the book When the Game Was Ours, Magic Johnson relates that he, Jordan and other players conspired to keep Thomas off the Dream Team.[5]

Post-NBA career

Toronto Raptors

After retiring, Thomas became part owner and Executive Vice President for the expansion Toronto Raptors in 1994. In 1998, he left the organization after a dispute with new management over the franchise's direction and his future responsibilities. During his four-year tenure with the team, the Raptors drafted Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, and high schooler Tracy McGrady.


After leaving the Raptors, Thomas became a television commentator (first as the lead game analyst with play-by-play man Bob Costas and then as part of the studio team) for the NBA on NBC. Thomas also worked a three-man booth with Costas and Doug Collins.


Thomas became the owner of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) from 1998 to 2000. Thomas purchased the CBA for $10 million, and in 2001 the league was forced into bankruptcy and folded, shortly after NBA Commissioner David Stern decided to create his own development league, the NBDL, to replace the CBA.[6] Many CBA managers blamed Thomas for the league's failure, citing mismanagement and out-of-control spending on his part. At the time of the league's collapse the managing of the CBA was in a blind-trust, due to Thomas' position as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

Indiana Pacers

From 2000 to 2003, Thomas coached the Indiana Pacers, succeeding Larry Bird, who previously coached the Pacers to the Eastern Conference title. Thomas attempted to bring up young talents such as Jermaine O'Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, Al Harrington, and Jeff Foster. However, under Thomas the Pacers were not able to stay at the elite level as they went through the transition from a veteran-dominated, playoff-experienced team to a younger, more inexperienced team. In Thomas's first two seasons with the Pacers, the team was eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets, both of whom eventually made the NBA Finals.

In his last year with the Pacers, Thomas guided the Pacers to a 48-34 record in the regular season and coached the Eastern Conference team at the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. As the third seed, the Pacers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the sixth-seeded Boston Celtics. With blossoming talents such as Brad Miller, Ron Artest, Al Harrington and Jamaal Tinsley, along with the veteran leadership of Reggie Miller, the perception existed that the Pacers' unfulfilled potential stemmed from Thomas' inexperience as a coach. In the offseason, Larry Bird returned to the Pacers as President of Basketball Operations, and his first act was to replace Thomas with Rick Carlisle.

Hall of Fame

In 2000, Thomas was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, in his initial year of eligibility.

New York Knicks

On December 22, 2003, the New York Knicks hired Thomas as President of Basketball Operations. Thomas was ultimately unsuccessful with the Knicks roster and fanbase. At the end of the 2005-06 season, the Knicks had the highest payroll in the league and the second-worst record. He traded away several future draft picks to Chicago in a deal for Eddy Curry including what turned out to be two lottery picks in talent-rich drafts.

A press conference for Isiah Thomas at the U.S. Century Bank Arena at Florida International University in Miami.

On June 22, 2006, the Knicks fired coach Larry Brown, and owner James Dolan replaced him with Thomas under the condition that he show "evident progress" or be fired.

During the following season the Knicks became embroiled in a brawl with the Denver Nuggets, which Thomas allegedly instigated by ordering his players to commit a hard foul in the paint.[7] However, he was not fined or suspended. NBA Commissioner David Stern said that he only relied on "definitive information" when handing out punishments.[8] Later in the season, nine months after James Dolan demanded "evident progress", the Knicks re-signed Thomas to an undisclosed "multi-year" contract.[9] After Thomas was granted the extension, the Knicks abruptly fell from playoff contention with a dismal finish to the season.

During the 2007 Draft, Thomas made another trade by acquiring Zach Randolph, Fred Jones, and Dan Dickau from the Portland Trail Blazers for Steve Francis and Channing Frye.

Thomas also compounded the Knicks' salary cap problems by signing fringe players such as Jerome James and Jared Jeffries to full mid-level exception contracts. Neither player has seen any significant playing time and both are often injured and when able to play are highly ineffective.

Despite the constant criticism that he received from Knicks fans, Thomas maintained that he had no intention of leaving until he turned the team around and he predicted that he would lead the Knicks to a championship, stating that his goal was to leave behind a "championship legacy" with the Knicks, just as he had done for the Detroit Pistons. This prediction was met with widespread skepticism.[10]

On April 2, 2008, Donnie Walsh was introduced to replace Thomas as President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks. Walsh would not comment definitively on whether or not Thomas would be retained in any capacity at the time of his hiring.

One night after the Knicks tied a franchise record of 59 losses and ended their season, news broke that in talks with Walsh the week before, Isiah had been told he would not return as Knicks head coach the following season. He was officially 'reassigned' on April 18 "after a season of listless and dreadful basketball, a tawdry lawsuit and unending chants from fans demanding his dismissal."[11] As part of the reassignment agreement Thomas was banned from having contact with any Knicks' players under the rationale that he could willingly or unwillingly undermine Donnie Walsh and the new head coach.[12]

Florida International University

On April 14, 2009, Thomas accepted an offer to become the head basketball coach of Florida International University, replacing Sergio Rouco after 5 losing seasons.[13] Thomas announced that he would donate his first year's salary back to the school.[13] Thomas was quoted as saying, "I did not come here for the money."[13]


Michael Jordan rivalry

In the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, Thomas was joined on the Eastern Conference squad by star rookie Michael Jordan. Jordan wound up attempting nine shots, a relatively low number for a starting player. Afterward, Thomas and his fellow veteran East players were accused of having planned to "freeze out" Jordan from their offense by not passing him the ball, supposedly out of jealousy over the attention Jordan was receiving. No player involved has ever confirmed that the "freeze-out" occurred, but the story has been long reported, and has never been refuted by Jordan.[14] Thomas has ridiculed the idea of him being the mastermind behind a supposed "freeze-out" as being "ludicrous" citing that he was a relatively young player on a team including Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Moses Malone.[15]

During Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame Induction, a ceremony in which Thomas inducted John Stockton into the Hall of Fame, Jordan denounced the claims of any freeze-out ever taking place saying "I was just happy to be there, being the young guy surrounded by all these greats, I just wanted to prove myself and I hope that I did prove myself to you guys."

In the Eastern Conference Finals of the 1991 NBA Playoffs, the two-time defending champion Detroit Pistons faced the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls for the fourth consecutive season in the playoffs. The Pistons had defeated the Bulls in each of the first three meetings, but this time they suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. The series was marked by a number of verbal, physical, and match-up problems. With 7.9 seconds remaining in the fourth game, Thomas and eight of his teammates walked off the court, refusing to shake hands with the members of the Bulls.

In 1992, Thomas was passed over by the United States men's national basketball team (popularly known as the Dream Team). Rumors have swirled that Thomas was left off the team because Jordan did not want him as a teammate on account of their bitter rivalry, which had begun with the alleged "freeze-out" and had continued through their playoff battles. Magic Johnson later stated in his book that he also agreed that he did not want Thomas as a teammate.

Sexual harassment lawsuit

In October 2006, Thomas and Madison Square Garden were sued for sexual harassment by Anucha Browne Sanders. The matter came to trial in September 2007 and Thomas was determined to have made demeaning statements to Sanders, as well as making sexual advances and repeatedly telling her that he was in love with her.[16] Madison Square Garden was ordered to pay Browne Sanders $11.6 million, one of the largest sexual harassment judgments in history.

"I'm innocent, I'm very innocent, and I did not do the things she has accused me in this courtroom of doing," Thomas said after the decision. "I'm extremely disappointed that the jury did not see the facts in this case." Thomas admitted under oath that he did in fact call Sanders a "bitch". During his testimony, Thomas also claimed it was appropriate to exchange hugs and kisses with co-workers.

Drug overdose

On October 24, 2008, Thomas was taken to White Plains Hospital Center near his New York City area home after taking an overdose of Lunesta, a form of sleep medication.[17] According to Harrison, New York police, they were called to Thomas's house, where, finding him unconscious but breathing, they had him transported to the hospital. Police Chief David Hall stated that they "are calling this an accidental overdose of a prescription sleeping pill.” He was released from the hospital later that day.[18]

In the opinion of Harrison Police Chief David Hall, Thomas tried to "cover up" the incident by claiming his 17-year old daughter required medical treatment when in actuality he was the patient. Referring to Thomas' 17-year-old daughter, Hall said, "And why they're throwing her under the bus is beyond my ability to understand."[19]

According to Thomas, in an interview with ESPN, his daughter was earlier in the day, taken to the hospital, and then so was he after he accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills. Thomas also denied that it was a suicide attempt, and explained that he was so quiet about his hospitalization because he was focused on his daughter and family at the time.[20]

Career NBA statistics


  • Games played: 979
  • Games started: 971
  • Minutes per game: 36.3
  • Points scored: 18,822
  • Assists: 9,061
  • Rebounds: 3,478
  • Steals: 1,861
  • Points per game: 19.2
  • Assists per game: 9.3
  • Rebounds per game: 3.6
  • Steals per game: 1.9
  • Field goal percentage: .452
  • Free throw percentage: .759
  • Three-point percentage: .290

Coaching record

Team Year Regular Season
G W L PCT Finish Result
IND 2000-01 82 41 41 .500 4th in Central Lost in First Round
IND 2001-02 82 42 40 .512 4th in Central Lost in First Round
IND 2002-03 82 48 34 .585 2nd in Central Lost in First Round
NYK 2006-07 82 33 49 .402 4th in Atlantic Missed Playoffs
NYK 2007-08 82 23 59 .280 5th in Atlantic Missed Playoffs
Career 410 187 223 .456
Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Florida International (Sun Belt) (2009–present)
2009–2010 Florida International 7-25 4-14
Florida International: 7-25 4-14
Total: 7-25

      National Champion         Conference Regular Season Champion         Conference Tournament Champion
      Conference Regular Season & Conference Tournament Champion       Conference Division Champion

See also


  1. ^ "That Was Then ... This is Now: Zeke and Franchise". NBA,com. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  2. ^ a b Metcalf, Stephen (2006-06-29). "The Devil Wears Nikes; Liking Isiah Thomas against my better judgment". Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  3. ^ "Games of the XXIInd Olympiad -- 1980". Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  4. ^ a b "Sports People: Basketball; Thomas Is Named To Dream Team II". New York Times. 1994-01-11. Retrieved 2008-08-24. 
  5. ^ "Book: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan kept Isiah Thomas off Olympic team". The Detroit News. October 22, 2009. 
  6. ^ CBA Museum, Isiah Thomas Years
  7. ^ "Melo apologizes; Isiah reportedly under investigation",, 2006-12-20. Accessed 2007-10-03. "Though Thomas acknowledged telling Anthony not to go into the paint, he said Monday he meant it not as a threat but as a lecture on sportsmanship."
  8. ^ "Suspensions total 47 games from Knicks-Nuggets fight",, 2006-12-20. Accessed 2007-10-03
  9. ^ "Thomas shows 'evident progress'; earns new deal",, 2007-03-07. Accessed 2007-10-03.
  10. ^ Isiah Thomas predicts a title
  11. ^ Isiah Thomas fired as coach of New York. He was fired on april 18, 2008 Knicks, Associated Press, April 18, 2008.
  12. ^ ESPN - Report: Ex-Knicks coach Thomas banned from contacting players - NBA
  13. ^ a b c "Florida International Hires Isiah to be Head Coach". CBS. 2009-04-14. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  14. ^ Wolff, Alexander."Look of a Winner", Sports Illustrated, accessed October 3, 2007."There was the famous freeze-out at the '85 All-Star Game, at which Isiah Thomas led a movement of several veterans to keep the ball out of the hands of their uppity rookie teammate."
  15. ^ Albom, Mitch. "Why is Isiah leaving Detroit - Part 2", Detroit Free Press, accessed 2008-04-30."I don't know how something like that gets started... what you're telling me is that I came in the locker room that had Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Michael Ray Richardson and whoever else was on that team, and I said, 'Hey, Bird, hey, Doc' -- and I'm a young guy myself -- 'hey, let's not give Jordan the ball.' Do you know how stupid that sounds? Do you know how ludicrous that sounds?"
  16. ^ "Isiah Thomas, Madison Square Garden Settle Sexual Harassment Suit". FOX via The Associated Press. 2007-12-10.,2933,316381,00.html. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  17. ^ Lelinwalla, Mark; Schapiro, Rich (2008-10-24), "Police respond to report of drug overdose at Isiah Thomas' home", Daily News,, retrieved 2008-10-25 
  18. ^ Beck, Howard; Schmidt, Michael (2008-10-25), "Overdose of Pills Puts Isiah Thomas in Hospital", The New York Times: D1, 
  19. ^ Police chief rebukes Thomas for involving daughter, 2008-10-25, 
  20. ^ ESPN Sportscenter interview, April 15, 2009
  21. ^ "Isiah Thomas Career Stats". NBA Encyclopedia. NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Retrieved 2007-11-04. 

External links

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