Isiah Thomas speaks at Stillman School of Business
It’s not every day that a true legend comes to your college campus to tell and inspire students with stories of hope, hardship, and history. Many professors and administrators have extensive experience in sports management and media, which becomes easier to imagine when you attend Seton Hall University.
Isiah Thomas is a 12-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA Champion (although he said “it should be 3”), Finals MVP, 5-time All-NBA selection and member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. His success goes far beyond that. Hardwood vs. Indiana Hoosiers and Detroit Pistons. Also known as “Zeke,” his story begins on Chicago’s West Side in the early 1960s.
Growing up as one of 12 children was not easy for Thomas, even though his mother, Mary Thomas, was a very well-known figure in their community. Thomas’ mother worked with Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party during the Civil Rights Movement, and Thomas noted that she also marched with Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everyone respected her. There’s actually a street named after my mom on Chicago’s West Side. They (even) made a movie about my mom,” Thomas recalled of his mother.
Thomas added that many people will note that he is Mary Thomas’ son, “and she gets a pass… because my mom was so strong and was friends with a lot of people and helped a lot of people.”
Thomas experienced it all at a young age, noting that many people believed he wanted to be an NBA player or had always dreamed of being an NBA player, although the Pistons legend paraphrased: “When he (he ) was born when the NBA wasn’t even on television.” Growing up. “
His basketball journey began by playing with the local Catholic youth organization with the help of his brother Henry Lord, as the guys who played on that team were all from the league. As the youngest child, Thomas seemed forced to go along with all his older siblings, and eventually, they seemed to fit right in with him.
While that did lead to Thomas attending Indiana University and playing for Bobby Knight, he noted that was not where he originally wanted to be. His mother made the decision for him at a press conference after Knight promised three things: that he would teach him everything he knew about basketball, that Thomas would graduate from college, and that Thomas would become a gentleman.
Thomas did not finish school immediately and declared early for the NBA draft due to difficulties, but eventually fulfilled Knight’s promise.
Since his parents prioritized education, Thomas signed a contract with his mother that would have him return to school every summer to complete his degree, but after playing in Detroit, he had to take correspondence courses at Groves High School in Michigan.
As soon as he entered the league in 1981, the NBA was considered “drug-infested,” ratings were low and the team’s value was at an all-time low, as former NBAPA executive director and current center director Charles Grantham ) said of Seton Hall University’s Sports Management: “Too dark for Madison Avenue.”
Thomas stepped forward and became a player representative for the NBA Players Association. He later became president of the players’ union, working alongside Grantham and continuing to provide strong leadership off the field and being involved in the organization of games.
bottom of table
He worked tirelessly with the players union to reshape the league’s image, from a stricter drug policy to trying to give affected players a second chance.
Being involved in all of these activities has led Thomas to develop close friendships with other NBA legends like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, who would work out together and share their basketball knowledge, but Thomas noted that there is a distinct difference in today’s game.
“We are a generation that believes the game is meant to be told,” Thomas said. “(You’re) being lied to, they’re telling you the game is for sale.”
Grantham said he knew that while Thomas had many other endeavors, most students were eager to hear about one thing: a relationship with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
“I don’t know that I had a rivalry with Jordan…my (rivals) were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird,” Thomas said. Even though Michael Jordan is considered one of the greatest players of all time, students and administrators agree, considering the majority of his career was between 1980 and 1990, before Jordan reached the NBA Finals. .
“I never knew Michael Jordan felt this way about me until I saw ‘The Last Dance’ on TV… and he called his producers and said we need you to do a story with Jordan … I thought we competed, but my focus again was, ‘How do I beat Magic (Johnson) and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and how do I beat (Larry) Bird, (Robert) Parrish, (Kevin) McHale, all of them? … He came on TV and said, ‘I hate you.'”
This connection with other stars and ultimately competitors allowed Isiah Thomas to gain an advantage and utilize what he learned. The Pistons of the late 1980s and early 1990s were known as the “bad boys” for their unconventional style of play and calmness compared to the NBA to which they had become accustomed.
Thomas said: “Everything we did was against the principles of the NBA… We were the first team to start using our own colors… We were the first team to experiment outside of the NBA… Now It’s called cross-marketing, and we do it through the Oakland Raiders.”
Many believe that collaborations of this nature are common, with many brands employing this strategy these days, but this is more important to the NBA than people think.
“We were the first group to stay at a five-star hotel … to get our own private travel plan for a night out,” Thomas said.
This prioritization of player health and safety is a product of Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons, who promise these enhancements will help win more games. His focus was always on winning, no matter the opponent or his adventures outside of basketball.
In 1992, Thomas acquired a company called American Speedy Printing and became the first NBA player to appear on the cover of Forbes magazine. Beyond that, the NBA is looking to expand internationally with teams in Vancouver and Toronto, the latter of which Isiah Thomas helped co-found after he retired.
For Thomas, the focus on enhancing player health never goes away, saying “everything you see today with the Toronto Raptors, we did it…the first team to have a chef, a massage therapist, and Everything you see in today’s NBA.”
An all-time great player, developer and businessman, his involvement in basketball isn’t over yet. In 2003, Thomas agreed to simultaneously serve as head coach, general manager and president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks. Despite the team’s lack of success in the mid-2000s, Thomas played a key role in providing a clean record for a team that was in much worse shape when he took over.
Outside of the basketball organizational side, Thomas is an entrepreneur with his company, Isiah International, which primarily operates outside of the United States, because of how he works as an American, not as Thomas puts it Working as a minority that way.
The firm invests in companies with strong market positions and growth potential. His ability to support his immediate family through these investments while working with many different backgrounds and cultures gives Thomas a new perspective after retirement.
These honors speak for themselves. Isiah Thomas used his unparalleled dedication and desire to learn to become not only a great basketball player, but a great thinker, friend, father, businessman, and human being. Thomas’s legacy is otherworldly, although his story is not over yet.