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Isiah Thomas

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."

Awards and Accomplishments

1980 Named to the Associated Press All-Big Ten team, the first college freshman to receive the honor
1981 Led Indiana Hoosiers to the NCAA basketball championship; named tournament MVP
1982 NBA All-Rookie team
1982-93 Played in All-Star Game every season but his last
1984 All-Star game MVP
1984-85 Became first player in NBA history to average more than 20 points per game and make more than 1,000 assists in the same season
1984-85 Set NBA record with 1,123 assists
1985 Named Michiganian of the Year
1986 All-Star game MVP
1988 Set NBA Finals record for most points in a quarter (25), and most field goals in one quarter (11)
1989 Led Pistons to the NBA championship
1990 Led Pistons to the NBA Championship
1990 Named NBA Finals MVP
1996 Named to the NBA Greatest 50 Players of All Time Team
2000 Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; uniform No. 11 retired by Pistons

A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story

Isiah Thomas's mother's life story was dramatized in a 1989 NBC-TV movie starring Alfre Woodard in the title role. The movie showed how the single mother worked to free her children from poverty as they came of age on the crime-riddled streets of Chicago's West Side. For the most part, Mary Thomas kept her children on the straight and narrow, making up with love what she lacked in money.

The movie depicts many telling events from Isiah Thomas' life, including the time Mary Thomas went to Mayor Richard Daley to complain that case workers wanted to move her family into a violence-plagued housing project-and she wasn't going to go. The movie also told about the time a gang showed up on the family's doorstep eager to recruit the Thomas boys. Mary Thomas, however, pointed her shotgun at them and threatened to blow them across the expressway. She explained that there was only one gang in that house, the Thomas gang.

The movie, and Mary Thomas' life, served as an inspiration to other mothers facing the same prospects she did. Originally broadcast as a "Magical World of Disney" Sunday night feature, the movie won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Prime Time Program.

Throughout his life, Isiah Thomas always gave his mother credit for his success, and the movie shows why.

Thomas finished the season averaging seventeen points per game for a total of 1,225 points. He handily

Isiah Thomas

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.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBasketballIsiah Thomas Biography - Grew Up In Grinding Poverty, Chronology, Delivered Hoosiers A National Championship, Helped Pistons Rebound Into Winning Team - CONTACT INFORMATION