INDIANAPOLIS — Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas has great appreciation for NBA greats. He has had notable, private conversations with his two idols — Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson — as well as his namesake, Pistons Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. But there is one legend he has yet to come in contact with, and he would like to change that.
On Thursday night, Thomas stood at his locker and commented on the famous former Celtic who was in the arena as Boston took a 109-102 win over the Pacers.
"Larry Bird was here, too," Thomas said. "I want to meet him, really. I've never even shook his hand."
When it was pointed out that the ever-competitive Bird, the Pacers' president, might not want to shake Thomas's hand after he smoked Indiana for 28 points, 9 assists, and 1 win, Thomas nodded.
"He probably doesn't," he said. "But one day I want to do that."
Thomas, who grew up in Tacoma, Wash., was a Lakers fan as a child, mostly because it was his father's favorite team and because of Bryant. He was just 3 years old when Bird retired in 1992, but he studies many of the game's greats, even long after their playing days have passed. He said he truly appreciated Bird because of his swagger.
"He was calling out stuff before he did it," he said. "That's special. Maybe one day I'll get to that level, but if you call out the move before you do it, and complete it, you're a bad man."
Celtics meet with former Vermont recruit
Josh Speidel was one of the top high school basketball players in Indiana when a devastating car crash on Feb. 1, 2015, left him with a traumatic brain injury. Speidel had to relearn simple tasks such as how to walk and talk.
Although the incident derailed his dreams of becoming a college basketball player, the University of Vermont still honored the scholarship it had offered him, and he enrolled there as a freshman this fall.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, an Indiana native who has retained close ties to this region, was familiar with Speidel's story.
On Wednesday night, the Celtics had an off day in Indianapolis, and Speidel was here with the Catamounts, who were playing against Butler University, Stevens's former team. So Stevens reached out to Vermont's director of basketball operations and requested a meeting with Speidel. The two spoke at Wednesday's game, and on Thursday morning, Speidel was Stevens's guest at the Celtics' shootaround.
"He's an inspiring kid," Stevens said. "We've all been inspired by his journey. It was a pleasure for me to meet him."
Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown played against Speidel on the summer AAU basketball circuit when both were in high school, and the two visited after Thursday's shootaround.
"It was fun watching Jaylen Brown say, 'Oh, that's Josh? He kicked my butt in AAU ball,' " Stevens said. "So it was fun to see Jaylen and him have that moment and spend time together. Hopefully it was fun for Josh to be around."
Stevens and Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry — also a former Butler assistant — attended the Bulldogs' game together. Stevens said he has made it to one Butler game in each of the last three seasons.
"When our schedule comes out, we cross-schedule it with theirs right away," he said. "It's the first thing we do."
Butler is off to one of the more impressive starts in program history. The Bulldogs are 11-1, with wins over Arizona, Indiana, and Cincinnati.
"They're great," Stevens said. "They've got great depth. Obviously [coach Chris Holtmann] is tremendous. It's really fun, a fun team to watch. It's a blast to watch them."
"Any time you watch a game as a fan, it's a heck of a lot more fun than when you're standing on the sidelines."
Young staying ready
Celtics forward James Young entered Thursday night with just 14 points this season, and 12 of them came during the Celtics' last visit to Indianapolis.
On Nov. 12, with Jae Crowder and Al Horford both sidelined, Young came off the bench and poured in 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in just 16 minutes. Boston probably would not have grabbed the 105-99 win over the Pacers without him.
Since then, however, playing time has been at a premium for Young. Stevens said it is not an indictment on Young's progression; it is more that Boston is finally healthy.
"There's only five you can play at a time, right?" Stevens said. "He's doing a great job. I sat down with him the other day and talked to him about how pleased we are with his progress and everything else. But there's only so many people that can play in a game. There's just not a lot of time, but inevitably you're going to have guys out, so that's when you just prepare for your time and take advantage of it."
Young said he was encouraged by the conversation with Stevens.
"It just keeps me at a high level," he said. "It keeps my confidence up that he sees it."
Young has not played with the Maine Red Claws this season. Since the Celtics have not practiced much recently, he has maintained his conditioning with one-on-one workouts.
"I just need to stay ready," he said. "I could get in there at any time, and when I get out there, just provide for the team in all the right ways."
Rozier still a fan
Stevens wasn't the only member of the Celtics to check in with his former team on Wednesday. Guard Terry Rozier traveled to Louisville, which is about 100 miles south of Indianapolis, to see his Cardinals face Kentucky in one of the top games of the college basketball season.
Rozier said he was told by several people that Louisville coach Rick Pitino even showed some old clips of Rozier to his team before the Cardinals' 73-70 win. Louisville went 0-3 against Kentucky during Rozier's two years there, so he was pleased to see a reversal of fortune.
"I felt like I was still part of the game, and to play against our rivals like that, it was a great first game to be back to watch the boys play," he said. "It was great just to see them get that big win, how happy the guys were, especially Ricky P. That was big-time."