Isiah Lord Thomas III is a retired professional basketball player who played with the Detroit Pistons from 1981 to 1994. He was born on April 30, 1961 in Chicago, Illinois and was the youngest of nine siblings. He attended a private school called St. Joseph High School in Illinois, which took him 1.5 hours daily to commute to. He led his high school team to the State Finals and was then recruited by Indiana University to play for their team the Indiana Hoosiers under coach Bob Knight. Many people tried to discourage Isiah from accepting this offer, including his older brother and anonymous letters sent to his home telling him that Knight was a harsh disciplinarian and often mistreated his players. However, he disregarded all this and accepted the Hoosiers’ offer.
In the beginning, Isiah Thomas did find it hard to adjust to Knight’s disciplinarian coaching methods and often got screamed at for not obeying orders. However, his sheer talent and dedication won Knight over, whose manner then softened. Fans loved him as well and nicknamed him “Mr. Wonderful”. Because of his relatively short height for a basketball player, Knight nicknamed him “Pee Wee”. During the 1980-81 season, he was made the captain of the team and led them to win two conference titles and the 1981 NCAA tournament. He also won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
The same year, he decided to turn pro and was drafted by the Detroit Pistons NBA team in the 1981 season with a 4 year $1.6 million contract. He led his team to the 1985 conference semi finals where the Pistons lost to the Boston Celtics. In 1987, they reached the Eastern Conference finals where they lost in a very close match, again to the Celtics. In 1988, the team reached the Conference Finals, this time facing the Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson (a close friend of Isiah’s), James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Pistons lost the contest in a close game but came back to win the title for the next two consecutive years. Isiah was voted NBA Finals Most Valuable Player of the 1990 NBA Finals.
The team continued to play well but could not win another title until Isiah’s retirement in 1994. He had planned to retire at the end of the season but had to do so earlier due to an injury. He is considered one of the greatest point guards in the history of the game and was named to the All-NBA First team thrice in his career. He had been selected to the 1980 Olympics team but U.S.A did not compete in those games due to the Olympic boycott as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was controversially left out of the original Dream Team because of a feud with Michael Jordan but was named to the Dream Team II in the 1994 World Championship of Basketball.
After retirement, Isiah was selected for the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. He has also been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He has worked as general manager for the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks, and also coached the Indiana Pacers. He became the CEO of a minor basketball league called the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), which is now no longer functioning. In 2007, he was involved in a sexual harassment case due to charges leveled by an executive named Anucha Browne Sanders. The case was settled for $11.6 million in damages. Isiah Thomas later went back to college to finish his degree and also received his Master’s in Education from the University of California, Berkeley. He is also an active philanthropist.