Former Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is scheduled to be part of a news conference in Cleveland Thursday morning, when he will be introduced as a Cavalier.
Thomas has said little publicly since Boston agreed to send him to the Cavaliers as part of the massive package that brought Kyrie Irving to the Celtics. Even his normally active social media accounts have been dormant. But on Wednesday afternoon, Thomas broke his silence and went into great detail about the trade in a first-person story written for The Players’ Tribune.
Thomas described how he found out about the trade, how he reacted, and how he will now move forward.
“It hurt a lot,” Thomas wrote. “And I won’t lie — it still hurts.”
Thomas said he missed a call from Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge as Thomas and his wife, Kayla, were returning home from Miami, where they’d celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary. Ainge then texted for Thomas to call him, but he said that was normal.
He said they had small talk before there was a brief pause and Ainge told Thomas he had been traded. Thomas asked Ainge where, and Ainge told him Cleveland, in exchange for Irving.
“And that’s when, like — man,” Thomas wrote. “You ever been on the phone, and someone says something, and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, ‘I don’t want to be on the phone anymore?’
“Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment.”
Thomas said Ainge then started talking to him about what he had meant to the franchise and the city, but Thomas did not want to listen.
“So I was steady trying to cut him off a few times, and then eventually I did,” Thomas wrote. “It was basically, you know, ‘I appreciate you reaching out, appreciate you telling me, but there’s really nothing else that you or I need to be saying right now.’
“And that was the gist of it. That was the call.”
Thomas said he understood that Ainge was making a business decision, but he did not agree with it.
“I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade,” he wrote. “But that’s not my job. That’s Danny’s. And it’s a tough job, and he’s been really good at it.”
In the story, Thomas circled back several times to make the point that he is still hurting. But he emphasized that it was not just because of the actions of the Celtics.
“When I say this hurts, man, just know that it isn’t because of anything anyone else did,” he wrote. “It’s only because of something I did. I fell in love with Boston.”
In the story, which is more than 3,500 words long, Thomas did not mention the hip injury that became a key story line of this offseason and this trade. Ainge had said on the night the deal was completed that Thomas would face a “delay” at the start of the regular season. Then after Thomas completed his physical, there was a weeklong impasse, as the Cavaliers sought extra compensation because of the severity of Thomas’s injury. Boston ultimately surrendered a 2020 second-round pick.
After he was traded to Boston in February 2015, said Thomas, he felt most people viewed him as just a cog in a slow rebuild. But he viewed it differently, that the fans wanted to win right away, just as he did, and that is why they formed such a special partnership.
“This was the first place, the first organization, the first group of fans in the league that didn’t take one look at me, take one look at my size, and put me into the same role as always,” Thomas wrote. “The Boston Celtics let me have a chance to be great. And I’ll never forget that.”
The Celtics have been criticized for trading Thomas just a few months after he sacrificed so much for the organization. In addition to being the lead recruiter of free agents Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, Thomas played through an extremely trying stretch during the playoffs.
His 22-year-old sister Chyna was killed in a car crash the day before Boston opened the playoffs against the Bulls. But Thomas still played in that series. And then he had a tooth knocked out in the conference semifinals against the Wizards, requiring major dental surgery, and then the torn hip labrum he had been playing through was simply too much to overcome, and he ultimately was sidelined two games into the conference finals against Cleveland.
Thomas said the support of Celtics fans gave him the strength to play after the death of his sister, from the signs in the crowd to the moment of silence to the cheers.
“Honestly,” he said, “it felt like the whole city of Boston was with me.”
Despite his sadness about the trade, Thomas also used the story as a way to look forward. Now that LeBron James is on his side, he said, he won’t be facing double- and triple-teams as he did with the Celtics.
But he acknowledged that if the Cavs play the Celtics in the playoffs, it will be difficult, because he had such an instrumental role in rebuilding Boston’s team.
“And come playoffs, all of a sudden, it’ll be like, ‘OK, now destroy it,’ ” Thomas wrote. “It’s sad, man. It’s just sad. But I didn’t come to Cleveland to lose.”
Thomas said that after the trade, he received a text from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whom he had befriended in recent years. Last season Thomas even went to a Patriots game and wore the autographed No. 12 jersey that Brady sent him.
Thomas said Brady wished him luck and said he would be great in Cleveland, and told him to stay in touch. Thomas said he had hoped to have a career that would at least partly follow Brady’s arc. He wanted to become a Boston sports legend too.
“That’s the career that I had started to map out for myself,” he wrote. “In my mind, I wanted to be the Celtics version of Brady and [David] Ortiz. I wanted this next era of Celtics basketball to go down in history, and I wanted to go down in Boston sports history with it.”