BOSTON -- When Dana Barros is introduced at appearances in his role as community relations consultant for the Boston Celtics, he's not just 14-year NBA veteran Dana Barros. Or former first-round pick Dana Barros. He's Dana Barros, former NBA All-Star.
There's something about the title of "All-Star" that resonates. It commands attention. It offers immediate validation that a player didn't just reach the highest level of his sport, but distinguished himself enough to be invited to an annual midseason showcase for which, while the game itself might be superfluous, the honor is eternal.
"All-Star is instantly recognizable," said Barros, who averaged a career-best 20.6 points, 7.5 assists and 1.8 steals over 40.5 minutes per game during the 1994-95 season with the Philadelphia 76ers and earned a spot as an Eastern Conference reserve. It also led to a big payday with his hometown Celtics that summer.
"A second-grader knows what an All-Star is. Or a 98-year-old who has never watched sports knows what that means. That title of All-Star is validation of what you accomplished and what you worked for."
Celtics 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas earned his first All-Star appearance Thursday as a coach-voted reserve with the Eastern Conference for next month's game in Toronto. Thomas, the 60th overall pick in the 2011 draft, becomes the lowest-selected draftee ever voted to the All-Star Game since the NBA went to two rounds in the draft in 1989.
Earlier this month ESPN.com spotlighted Thomas' quest to become the greatest player ever under 6 feet. In landing on the All-Star squad, Thomas joined Barros on an index of only nine players listed under 6 feet who have been invited to play in the All-Star Game. What's more, Thomas is only the second player in league history to earn an All-Star invite at 5-foot-9 or shorter, joining Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy.
Even though Thomas is competing in only his fifth NBA season, being an All-Star thrusts him a little deeper into the conversation about the best little guys to ever play in the NBA. Thomas already ranks 14th in career win shares among all 125 players under 6 feet in league history and could be knocking on the door of the top 10 by season's end.
"I get pissed when people start talking about how good he is because of his size. He's good because he's good."Calvin Murphy on Isaiah Thomas
So even those who sit on top of that win shares list have taken notice of Thomas' accomplishments.
"I've watched [Thomas] since he's come into the game," Murphy said. "I get pissed when people start talking about how good he is because of his size. He's good because he's good."
Thomas is putting together a remarkable season regardless of height. He's averaging 21.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals over 32.4 minutes per game. He is one of only five players averaging 21-plus points, 6-plus assists and 1-plus steal per game this season and the four others -- Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and James Harden -- are also All-Stars.
Still, in an Eastern Conference heavy on backcourt talent, Thomas was no slam dunk to be voted a reserve. When Toronto's Kyle Lowry made a late surge in fan voting and muscled into a starting spot in front of Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, who missed the first two months of the season while recovering from a knee injury, it improved Thomas' chances of landing one of seven available reserve spots.
Thomas, anxious during the slow crawl until Thursday's announcement, pledged to simply keep grinding if he didn't get an invite, but clearly felt he was deserving of a spot and stressed how much it would mean to both him and his Celtics teammates.
"It is [important]," Thomas said. "I just worked so hard. I feel like I deserve it. Not just the individual success, but as a team. We've been winning lately, we're fifth in the East, and we're playing at a high level right now. And on top of that, the numbers don't lie. You can stack the numbers up against anybody in the NBA and they'd be there."
Now Thomas is an All-Star and that title will be forever attached to him. Barros noted how undersized players are often highly motivated by a desire to prove themselves to others. The All-Star honor provides validation that Thomas belongs in a game of giants.
But the best little guys never stop trying to prove themselves.
"[Succeeding as a little guy] takes the ability to enjoy and almost revel in the negative aspects that people bring up in your game," Barros said. "You have to enjoy it. Or it has to piss you off so much that you're relentless. For me, I was always thinking, 'I don't know why these guys don't think I'm good.' Every day it disturbed me. I couldn't wait to get on the court and prove myself again."
Barros marvels at not only the numbers that Thomas puts up, but the way he generates his points and the fearlessness he shows in attacking the basket.
"He does it with an array [of scoring moves]," Barros said. "Me, I was able to score so much easier than most scorers. I'd come down and they wouldn't expect me to shoot from 2 feet behind the [3-point] line. He's not doing that. He's taking punishment. It's a testament to how he's doing it, at his size, and to be averaging 21 points per game. It's amazing."
"He's taking punishment. It's a testament to how he's doing it, at his size, and to be averaging 21 points per game. It's amazing."Dana Barros
Barros hopes Thomas savors the All-Star experience. Two decades removed from his All-Star appearance, Barros remembers sitting in a locker room that included the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen and Patrick Ewing, and being a bit awestruck when his All-Star teammates complimented his game. Barros said his lone goal was to score if he got in the game and, playing 11 minutes behind starting point guard Penny Hardaway, Barros generated five points on 2-of-5 shooting.
Thomas might not get a lot of time because of the guard depth the East will have next month, but he certainly won't be bashful about putting up shots.
Watching from afar, Murphy is impressed by what he sees from Thomas. But that little-guy instinct takes over when Murphy is asked about Thomas' desire to be the best player under 6 feet.
"I've had a chance to talk to him and get to know him and he wants to be the greatest player ever to play in the NBA under 6 feet tall," said Murphy, who averaged 17.9 points and 4.4 assists per game over a 13-year career with the Rockets. "My attitude is he can forget that. I'm going to hold on to that title.
"But he's a talented young man. He's a sweetheart. I always like anyone who gives the pioneers some respect and he did that with me. He has all the tools. I'm not surprised whatsoever that he's succeeding there. All teams are not for all players. He found a team that fits what he has to offer. He will be one to be reckoned with for years to come."