Helped Pistons Rebound Into Winning Team
When Thomas joined the Pistons, they were at the bottom of the league, lurching their way to a 21-61 record during the 1980-81 season. But with Thomas in the lineup playing guard during the start of the 1981-1982 season, the Pistons got off to an 8-5 record. During his first month in the big leagues, the twenty-year-old Thomas averaged twenty-one points per game. He added pizzazz to the Pistons' game, and attendance rose. The Detroit News proclaimed Thomas "Isiah the Savior."
Thomas finished the season averaging seventeen points per game for a total of 1,225 points. He handily
made the All-Rookie and All-Star teams. The Pistons won thirty-nine games, their best finish in five years.
During the 1983-1984 season, Thomas led the Pistons to a 49-33 record. They faced the New York Knicks in the playoffs. The teams split the first four games of the series. During the fifth and deciding game, the Pistons were down 106-98 with just under two minutes to play. This is where Thomas showed his stuff. In ninety-four seconds, Thomas dropped in a lay-up, a three-pointer, five free throws, and three jump shots for sixteen points, tying the game at 114. The Pistons lost in overtime, but fans reveled in Thomas's play.
As Thomas gained star status on the court, he began using his name to help improve his community. Thomas wrote a weekly kids column for the Detroit Free Press, starred in an anti-drug film, and frequented inner-city schools, telling kids to stay in school and fight for their dreams. He also persuaded the mayor of Detroit to hold "No Crime Day" on September 27, 1986, so neighborhoods would be forced to focus efforts on dealing with crime, gangs, and drugs.
During the mid-1980s, Thomas realized that the Pistons needed a fresh image to help them compete. Though the Pistons had improved, other teams still thought of them as perennial losers. Over the next few years, Thomas helped redesign the team into the "Bad Boys" of the NBA. It was mostly a trick of perception, which worked. As the Pistons developed a more aggressive image, their play improved. They also picked up better players, like Dennis Rodman in 1986. Finally, in 1988, the Pistons achieved their dream of making it to the NBA Finals, where they faced the defending champs, the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson.
The series was intense. Going into game six, Detroit led three games to two and needed one more victory for the title. The Lakers, playing at home, led 53-46 at the half. Thomas came out the second half determined to win. He scored a speedy fourteen points to put the Pistons back in the game, then promptly sprained his ankle. Thomas sat out thirty-five seconds, then insisted on going back in. Blocking out the pain, Thomas scored eleven more points for a third-quarter total of twenty-five, setting an NBA Finals record for most points scored in a quarter.
According to Ron Knapp's biography on Thomas, Los Angeles Times columnist Mike Downey wrote up Thomas' game this way, "He was out of this world. He was making shots off the wrong foot, off the glass, off the wall." Though Thomas scored forty-three points, Detroit lost 103-102, leaving the series tied at three games apiece. A gimpy Thomas suffered through the final game of the series as Detroit went down 108-105. Even though his team lost, Thomas became a champion of sorts. Fans were amazed with his skill and determination, which broke through even in the toughest moments.
- Isiah Thomas - Awards And Accomplishments
- Isiah Thomas - Delivered Hoosiers A National Championship
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