Print and Go Back ESPN Classic [Print without images]

Monday, July 16, 2001
Isiah led IU, Detroit to titles

By Mike Puma
Special to

Signature Game
March 30, 1981 - In what would be his last college game, Isiah Thomas broke out in the second half to lead Indiana to the NCAA title. After connecting on only 1-of-7 shots in the first half, the 6-foot-1 point guard scored 19 points in the final 20 minutes to key the Hoosiers' 63-50 victory over North Carolina in Philadelphia.

With the Hoosiers leading 27-26 to begin the second half, Thomas stole two consecutive passes and scored. "Those two steals were the turning point of the game," North Carolina coach Dean Smith said.

Thomas was hardly the biggest story in the nation this day. Earlier, President Ronald Reagan had been shot. An announcement before tipoff told the crowd of 18,276 that Reagan had come through surgery successfully.

"We were happy the President wasn't dead," Thomas said. "A lot of people get shot."

When the game ended, Thomas spotted his mother Mary rushing down to the court and the two embraced.

Odds 'n' Ends
  • By three, Thomas could dribble and shoot baskets.

  • Thomas met his wife Lynn while the two were students at Indiana. They married in 1985 and have two children.

  • Thomas was given no preferential treatment at Indiana; coach Bobby Knight threw him out of practice on occasion.

  • In Thomas' two seasons at Indiana, the Hoosiers went 47-17. He averaged 14.6 points and 5.5 assists as a freshman and 16 points and 5.8 assists as a sophomore.

  • After leaving Indiana early, Thomas' mother made him promise in writing he would finish his degree. He did, earning a degree in criminal justice in 1988.

  • Shortly after arriving in Detroit, Thomas had a falling out with coach Scotty Robertson, who wanted Thomas to be more of a passer and defender than a scorer.

  • Chuck Daly, who replaced Robertson in 1983, admired Thomas' toughness. "The guy picks up more hard fouls than anyone in the game because when he goes to the basket, he's so elusive, people grab him and bump him and hold him," Daly said.

  • Thomas scored a career-high 47 points against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 13, 1983.

  • Thomas was named MVP of the 1984 and 1986 All-Star Games.

  • In the fifth and deciding game of the first round of the 1984 Eastern Conference playoffs, Thomas scored 16 points in the last 94 seconds of the fourth quarter to rally Detroit to force overtime. However, the Knicks beat the Pistons, 127-123, in the extra session.

  • Twice within a week in February 1985, Thomas had 25 assists, against the Washington Bullets and Dallas Mavericks.

  • Although Thomas denied there was a rift between him and Michael Jordan, their relationship was hardly cordial. At the 1985 All-Star Game, Thomas passed Jordan the ball only twice. "There was no plot," Thomas said. "It was Michael's first All-Star Game and you know what? He just didn't play well."

  • When the Dream Team was announced in 1991, there was speculation that Jordan got his payback when Thomas was left off the team.

  • Thomas on Jordan: "I never knew him, he never knew me. Not that we didn't like each other, but I played for Detroit and he played for the Bulls. I went home and was with my family and he did the same."

  • In 1986, Thomas organized a "No Crime Day" in Detroit. Venturing into some of the city's tough neighborhoods, he asked drug dealers and gang members to give crime a day off.

  • Thomas received a two-game suspension in 1989 for retaliating from a Bill Cartwright elbow by punching the Chicago Bulls center in the head. Thomas broke his left hand.

  • In 1989, Thomas was listed as one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People."

  • Against the Lakers in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals, Thomas scored 14 points in less than five minutes of the third quarter before spraining an ankle. After sitting out briefly, he returned and scored 11 more points in the period to give him 25, a Finals record for most points in a period. He finished the game with 43.

  • However, the Pistons lost the game, 103-102, and then with Thomas limited to 28 minutes because of the ankle injury, they also lost Game 7, 108-105.

  • When the Pistons were eliminated in a four-game sweep by the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference final, Thomas organized a walkout in which the Pistons refused to shake hands with the winners.

  • In November 1991, two months after the Dream Team was announced, the Bulls' Scottie Pippen labeled Thomas a cheap-shot artist and said he wouldn't play on the Olympic team if Thomas was one of the two players added to fill out the squad.

  • In December 1991, Thomas took a blow from Utah's Karl Malone that required 40 stitches over his left eye. He had vision problems and headaches for two weeks, but missed only three games.

  • Some Pistons believe Malone was paying Thomas back for scoring 44 points against teammate and fellow Dream Team member John Stockton in their previous meeting. Thomas said he belonged on the Olympic Team, and the inference was that it was over Stockton.

  • Thomas never averaged below 17.6 points and 7.2 assists in his first 12 NBA seasons.

  • In his last year -- at 32 -- he still put up decent numbers, 14.8 points and 6.9 assists.

  • Thomas averaged 20.4 points and 9.3 assists in 111 playoff games.

  • He averaged 16.8 points and 8.8 assists in 29 minutes in 11 All-Star appearances.

  • Thomas was head of the NBA Players' Association for his final six seasons in the league.

  • Thomas' ownership stake in the Raptors was 9 percent.

  • Overseeing the Toronto draft, he selected Arizona's Damon Stoudamire, who became Rookie of the Year in 1995-96.

  • In 1997, the book "Money Players" cited six unidentified sources that said Thomas lost as much as $1 million in high-stakes dice games run by members of organized crime.

  • Upon buying the CBA in 1999, Thomas planned to make the league a minor league for the NBA. Thomas had to sell his stake in the CBA upon becoming Indiana Pacers coach in 2000.

  • In his first year, Indiana went 41-41 in 2000-2001 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia 76ers.