Isaiah Thomas’s father, James, has been an airplane parts inspector for Boeing for more than 30 years. He has been reassigned and relocated within Washington state before, and he never really blinked.
“When my job tells me I’ve got to go somewhere else, I go somewhere else,” he said in a telephone interview from Tacoma. “That’s work. Or, you find another job. That’s a part of life, even sports.”
James Thomas was a bit surprised when Isaiah called him Tuesday and said he had been traded from the Celtics to the Cavaliers.
After all, Isaiah was coming off consecutive All-Star appearances and he had been the centerpiece of the Celtics’ rapid revitalization. But James Thomas also knew that sentimental value is not everlasting, particularly in the NBA.
Thomas declined to discuss Isaiah’s reaction to the trade that sent point guard Kyrie Irving to Boston, but the father said that while change can briefly be jarring, his son is well-equipped to handle it.
“He’s still Isaiah, regardless of where he goes or what he does,” James Thomas said. “It’s a business. We’ve been doing good. Isaiah’s been doing great wherever he goes. And it’s just — it’s almost time for him to get paid.”
Thomas will be a free agent at season’s end, and he has made it clear that he will be seeking a max contract. Now, as he recovers from last spring’s hip injury and joins LeBron James on a team that could reach the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, he will be playing for his present and his future. And that is a lot to take on, especially with this late and unexpected twist.
“Isaiah has managed to overcome every obstacle you put in front of him,” James Thomas said. “He knows how to maintain, man. He just holds his composure and just plays on. At the end of the day, it’s basketball. It’s still a dream.”
In Boston, Isaiah Thomas had finally found a place where he was so clearly wanted and needed. He fully embraced being a Celtic and did all he could to return the franchise to prominence, regardless of circumstance.
That was most evident last April, when he played on despite an unfathomable series of events that would have flattened many people. First, his 22-year-old sister, Chyna, was killed in a car crash a day before Boston opened the playoffs against the Bulls. Thomas appeared shattered in Game 1 and flew home to Tacoma twice during the playoffs, but did not miss a game. Then in the conference semifinals against the Wizards he took an inadvertent elbow to the jaw from Washington’s Otto Porter, causing one of his teeth to pop out and leading to significant dental surgery the next day. And then in the conference finals against Cleveland he severely aggravated a hip injury and suffered a labral tear.
“It was a storm, man,” James Thomas said. “When a storm hits, you’ve got to be able to go through it. It was the worst storm we’ve ever seen or been through as a family. It hurts and it’s been a difficult time. You just go forward and try to do the best you can. I brought my kids up to do the best they can.”
Thomas was also instrumental in the Celtics’ free agent recruitments in recent summers. He helped woo Al Horford last year and Gordon Hayward this year.
In some corners, it has been viewed as a sign of disrespect by the Celtics to ship out a player who fought for his team during such a trying time just three months ago, and who had shown fierce dedication to this franchise. But James Thomas said he has no sour grapes.
“They were good times in Boston,” he said. “They were good to us. They gave my son a chance to play in the NBA. It’s nothing against them. I only have good things to say. I can’t cut them. Hey, every starter that was there this year is gone except one. Maybe they did what was best for Boston, or at least they think they did.”
The father said that when any lingering surprise or shock about the trade wears off, the reality will hit that Isaiah is now a member of a team that won an NBA title just over one year ago, a team that still has James.
“At the end of the day, what can you say?” Thomas said. “You’re playing with LeBron. I mean, how many players get to play with the best guy on the planet? And a guy that says you’re good, too, and that people can’t stop you, either.”
James Thomas is also looking forward to Isaiah’s reunion with his former AAU teammate, All-Star forward Kevin Love. When Isaiah was in middle school he often traveled from Tacoma to Portland for weekend tournaments, and he would usually stay at Love’s home.
The elder Thomas chuckled as he recalled those memories. They still seem so vivid despite now being so long ago. Now, whether he is in Boston or Cleveland or wherever, his son is a superstar.
“I just always wanted to make sure he believed in himself,” James Thomas said. “I wanted him to believe that yes, he’s small, but they can’t stop you. He’s 5-foot-9 and he’s in the NBA. It’s something you don’t hear about every day. And regardless of Cavaliers or anything, I don’t miss Isaiah play. Wherever Isaiah goes, I go.”