Friday, October 23, 2009
PRESIDENT, BASKETBALL OPERATIONS, and HEAD COACH
The tenacity, dedication and unyielding will to win that have marked every facet of Isiah Thomas’ basketball life have been brought to the greatest stage in professional sports - the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Thomas’ prolific career has been defined by success at every level as both player and executive, as well as in the business and philanthropic worlds. He brought his singular style and winning attitude to the world’s greatest basketball city when he was named president, basketball operations of the Knicks on Dec. 22, 2003.
His impact upon the Knicks has been swift and dramatic, as he has engineered trades to bring the likes of Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, Jalen Rose and Quentin Richardson to New York, as well as the free agent signings of Jared Jeffries and Jerome James. He has also overseen three successful drafts in 2004-05-06, acquiring the dynamic trio of All-Rookie First Team forward Channing Frye, slam dunk champion Nate Robinson and tenacious David Lee in ’05, as well as promising Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins in ’06.
Thomas’ patience and ability to stick to his long-term plan, rebuilding the organization through a balance of youth, athleticism and experience, have re-energized the franchise (every player on the Knicks’ roster has been acquired during Thomas’ regime). Taking on the added role of head coach, he brings a singular philosophy - both short- and long-term - for returning the Knicks to elite status.
Now in his fourth season (third full campaign) as the Knickerbockers’ president, basketball operations, the Basketball Hall of Famer assumed his latest challenge when he was appointed the 23rd head coach in franchise history on Jun. 22, 2006.
“I’m extremely excited to be coaching again, and be back on the bench,” says Thomas, 45. “I love coaching, I enjoy it. I love working with people and probably the most significant impact you can have on a person’s life is by coaching him through adversity.
“I still was able to do it (as an executive), but you don’t have the emotions and the raw passion that you deal with in the arena. The front office is a sterile place, and the floor in the arena is a place where all emotions flow from.
“The two things that we need to reestablish are discipline and trust,” says Thomas, who has a career record of 131-115 (.533) as an NBA head coach in three seasons with the Indiana Pacers. “And the first thing is--- when your unit or your team becomes undisciplined, there’s been a breakdown in trust. So the first thing I’ll do is restore the discipline and from that discipline, we should be able to regain the trust of our players. And from the discipline and trust, we’ll try to restore their confidence and build their confidence back to the level where it should be for a professional athlete to go out and compete.”
Thomas grew up learning discipline and leadership from his mother, Mary. In a Chicago neighborhood plagued by drugs, violence and crime, Mary kept Isiah out of trouble, setting the groundwork for all his future success.
Following his Hall of Fame playing career with the Detroit Pistons, Thomas embarked on his front office career in May 1994 as part owner and executive vice president of basketball operations for the expansion Toronto Raptors. In three years with Toronto, he drafted impact players such as Tracy McGrady, Damon Stoudamire and Marcus Camby, while following a successful business plan that made the Raptors a model for startup franchises. He left the Raptors organization in November 1997 to became a studio analyst for NBC, and in 1999 made the bold step of purchasing the Continental Basketball Association, which was just weeks from folding.
He turned the foundering CBA into a successful business venture over two years, before he was forced to sell the league when he was named head coach of the Indiana Pacers on Jul. 20, 2000. Thomas led the Pacers to the NBA Playoffs in all three of his years as head coach (2000-01 through 2002-03), overseeing the growth of such young stars as Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Jamaal Tinsley and Al Harrington.
Thomas’ successful front office and coaching career followed a storied 13-year playing tenure with the Pistons (1981-82 through 1993-94), which earned him enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 as well as designation in 1996 as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Thomas was a 12-time NBA All-Star (the Game’s MVP in 1984 and 1986) as well as a five-time All-NBA selection (First Team three times, Second Team twice).
Thomas averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 assists over his NBA career, and ranks fifth on the League’s all-time career list in assists (9,061) and 44th in total points (18,822). He is still the Pistons’ all-time career leader in total points (18,822), assists (9,061) and steals (1,861). For nine years, he teamed with Joe Dumars to form a backcourt that would eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, as Dumars - now Detroit’s president of basketball operations - joined Thomas in Springfield in 2006.
Above all, of course, Thomas was the central figure in leading the Pistons to back-to-back NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990, earning Finals MVP honors in 1990. His number 11 was retired by the Pistons on February 17, 1996.
Prior to his NBA career, Thomas averaged 15.4 points in two seasons at Indiana University. He earned Sporting News first team All-American honors in 1981, the year he led the Hoosiers to the NCAA Championship. He was also a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic basketball team that did not compete in the Moscow Games.
Isiah has also enjoyed great success in the business arena as well. In 1994, he - along with partners - acquired American Speedy Printing Centers, Inc., and, as co-chairman, led the company from bankruptcy to become one of the world's largest printing franchises. He was also a founding member of the advisory board for Marquis Jet Partners, Inc., the world's leading fractional Jet card provider. The company is affiliated with NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway Company. Most recently, Thomas has become a partner in Dale and Thomas Popcorn stores, an innovative chain of retail popcorn stores.
In April of 1999, Thomas was elected to the Board of Governors of Chicago Stock Exchange to became the first African-American to sit on the Exchange in it’s century-plus existence.
Away from basketball, Thomas is active in numerous charitable endeavors. He is the founder of the Isiah Thomas Foundation, which promotes and creates educational and recreational opportunities for inner city youth in the Detroit area. His charitable ties include Autism Speaks, America’s Second Harvest, the Easter Seals Society, the Association for the Help of Retarded Children and the Isiah Thomas Scholarship Fund at Indiana University.
Thomas was the winner of the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1987, served as president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1994-98, and was inducted into the Five Star Basketball Camp Hall of Fame in 2004.
In addition, Thomas was named a “Father of the Year” in 2004 by the National Father’s Day Committee, as well as one of the “100 Most Influential Minorities in Sports” by Sports Illustrated in 2003, ’04 and ’05 and one of the “50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports” by Black Enterprise Magazine in 2005. He was named the 1985 Michiganian of the Year and received the University of Detroit Mercy President’s Cabinet medallion in 1992 for his contributions to the community. He was also named one of The Sporting News’ “101 Most Powerful People in Sports” in 1999.
Academically, Thomas fulfilled a promise he made to his mother Mary upon his departure from Indiana University to enter the NBA following his sophomore season, returning to Bloomington to earn his degree in 1987.
Born on Apr. 30, 1961 in Chicago, Isiah and his wife Lynn have two children, Joshua and Lauren, and reside in Westchester.