Originally, I was going to publish a single entry listing the players I hate most. However, I apparently can't write anything short, so it's going to be a series of posts.
As most of you already know, there are plenty of reasons to hate Isiah Thomas, from his one-man decimation of the CBA
to how he mismanaged the Knicks into a hilarious running joke
Oh, wait, that last feat almost made me like him again.
Still, my enmity for the so-called "Baby Faced Assassin" goes all the way back to May 30, 1987 when, after the Celtics had eliminated the Pistons in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Isiah responded to rookie teammate Dennis Rodman's claim that Larry Bird was overrated because of his skin color by uttering the following very unfortunate statement:
"I think Larry is a very, very good basketball player. An exceptional talent, but I have to agree with Rodman. If he were black, he'd be just another good guy."
His dumbass statement ignited an instant firestorm. As dumbass statements often do.
Now, looking back, the adult me can understand why Isiah jammed a sweaty foot in his mouth and proceeded to choke on it. After all, his team had just lost to a hated rival in a brutal playoff series during which a teammate was punched in full view of an official
without the offending player getting ejected or even called for a foul, and he himself had probably cost his team the series by throwing one of the most ill-advised inbounds passes of all time
I can feel the crackling frustration even through the mists of time.
That said, 12-year-old me wasn't nearly as forgiving. As far as I was concerned, Isiah had committed an unforgivable blasphemy. To the adolescent me, Larry Bird was the Basketball God. And nobody takes a whiz on Basketball God without an instant and immediate death by lightning strike. Nobody.
Of course, Isiah didn't help matters by not just saying, "I was frustrated and made a verbal poop," and leaving it at that. He claimed
the remark was made "sarcastically and humorously."
Said Isiah: "In print, you don't get the laughter. In print, you don't get the sarcasm. In print, you get what you get."
In print you don't get the laughter. Or complete double rainbows. You only get pure, unfiltered, undiluted honesty (read that: idiocy).
"My mistake was in joking in a manner and with someone who did not fully understand that I was joking. I'm really hurting about this."
Poor Isiah. Sad face for him, everybody.
Zeke's comments were so clearly bullshit that he then went on to make a clumsy commentary on racism and stereotypes in sports:
"The big controversy isn't about my saying professional athletes are stereotyped. The controversy is that I said Larry Bird, if he was black, would be just another good guy. But I think you would all agree that the stereotypes do exist.
"Larry definitely had to work hard to get where he is at, but so many times it's been said about black athletes that their talent is 'God-given' or that it's 'natural ability.' I had to work just as hard to get where I am. It's not God-given or instinctive. Basketball is a game where you do things over and over again. When someone makes a great play it's not a matter of instinct, but how quickly you can recall."
If only he had stopped there. But, of course, he didn't
"What I was referring to was not so much Larry Bird, but the perception of stereotypes about blacks. When Bird makes a great play, it's due to his thinking, and his work habits. It's all planned out by him. It's not the case for blacks. All we do is run and jump. We never practice or give a thought to how we play. Magic and Michael Jordan and me, for example, we're playing only on God-given talent, like we're animals, lions and tigers, who run around wild in the jungle, while Larry's success is due to intelligence and hard work."
Lions and tigers. Running wild in the jungle. Rawr.
Isiah still wasn't finished:
"Blacks have been fighting that stereotype about playing on pure instinct for so long, and basically it still exists -- regardless of whether people want to believe it or not. Maybe I was more sensitive to it because Boston has more white players than any other pro team, and maybe because it's so hard to win in Boston Garden. I feel that it's not so much the fouls the referees call there, but the ones they don't call.
"Like the punches that Parish hit Laimbeer with. I guarantee you that if it was in Atlanta, and Tree Rollins did that to Laimbeer, Rollins is thrown out of the game so fast you wouldn't believe it."
So the Celtics had too many whites and therefore Parish, a black player, was allowed to pummel Laimbeer, a white player, with no penalty. Such was the amazing Bizarro logic of Isiah Thomas.
Hey, again, adult me can understand what he was getting at. But 12-year-old me -- and most people following basketball at the time -- construed Isiah's comments as whining at best and racist (or reverse racist) at worst. Beaten by a better team, unable to go down with dignity and respect, he blindly attacked a man who was, at the time, considered the best and most beloved player in the league. Then flopped all over himself trying to talk his way out of it.
Somewhat ironically, Bird himself could have cared less about Isiah's comments. To help diffuse the situation, Bird appeared with Isiah at a press conference
and basically gave the press a big "whatever."
Said Bird: "If what he said doesn't bother me, it shouldn't bother anybody. He's my friend and if he said he was joking around, I believe him."
Even after Larry's presidential-style pardon, Isiah couldn't stop whining:
"It was definitely one of the worst days of my life. I lost a game, was accused of being a racist and I'm a bad guy now."
That woe-is-me, it's-not-my-fault attitude has followed Isiah the rest of his life. Mismanage the Raptors? Not my fault. Destroy the CBA? Not my fault. Fired as coach of the Pacers
? Larry was getting back at me. Accused of sexual harassment? Not guilty. Mismanage the Knicks into NBA oblivion? I actually did a pretty good job there. Accidental drug overdose
? It was my daughter.
The saddest (or, depending on your outlook, funniest) part of all this? Isiah is still taking swipes at Larry all these years later
"I have no problem saying this at all. [Larry and Magic were] 6-(feet)-9 and Jordan was 6-6 and a half. If they were all 6-1, it wouldn't even be a question. They wouldn't even fucking rate. If they were all my size, shit, they wouldn't even be talked about.
"I beat the shit out of them when they were that big. If we were all the same size, fuck. Make them 6-1 and let's go on the court."
It's actually the ultimate irony that, decades after complaining the accomplishments of black athletes were overlooked due to their physical attributes, Isiah completely minimized Bird's (not to mention Magic's and MJ's) accomplishments...because of their physical attributes.
And that's why I hate the guy.
Labels: Isiah Thomas, Players I Hate