Over the years, generations of elementary school students have played basketball at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club.
On Friday, a new era — and facility — dawned.
Welcome to Isaiah Thomas Court.
On hand to make the first basket was Thomas himself — Curtis High School’s basketball hero, now with the Boston Celtics — scoring a ceremonial basket against his son, Jaiden, to christen the gym that underwent a nearly six-month renovation at a cost of $150,000.
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Thomas and the Celtics played in Portland on Thursday night. Right after noon Friday, he and a couple of team officials drove up to Tacoma for the court dedication ceremony.
A half-hour after his arrival, 40 to 50 children who are Al Davies Boys and Girls Club members were finally let in to see the new 5,700-square foot gymnasium — and Thomas as well.
“I was happy,” said Jerome Smith, a seventh grader at Bryant Montessori School in Tacoma. “I feel we have a real gym and stuff. Isaiah is like my favorite player, too. To see where he has made to (in the NBA) is exciting.”
After saying a few words in front of a crowd of 150 people, Thomas — who turned 28 on Tuesday — looked around his new gymnasium. He paused. He got choked up. He wiped away a few tears.
“I always dreamed of having a gym,” he told the kids. “Now y’all better use it.”
In August, Al Davis Boys and Girls Club officials were notified they were selected as one of 50 boys clubs around American to receive a $50,000 grant from Lowe’s for facility expansion.
That is when Sierra Raynor, the area branch director, reached out to Thomas about the idea of turning the vacated Tacoma Boxing Club gymnasium into a second basketball court.
Thomas was on board from the get-go: Not only did he donate $80,000 of his own money, he got the NBA Players Association Foundation to give an additional $20,000.
It took four months for the court to be completed.
“I was involved in the design,” Thomas said. “It is kind of after the UW’s court with the Seattle skyline. But I wanted something to represent the city where I am from, so we have the Tacoma skyline, Tacoma Dome and my initials in the middle.”
On the back wall is a series of Nike advertising campaigns involving Thomas that first appeared in a train station in Boston. Its slogan was, “Pick Me Last Again” — a sly reference to his history as the last player picked in the 2011 NBA draft.
Thomas asked A.J. Witthoeft, owner of Boston-area Sign Installation Specialists, what happened to the posters when they were taken down after a month.
Witthoeft said it was sent to a warehouse. Thomas thought it would be a nice look in his new gymnasium, so the two worked out a deal that brought Witthoeft out to Tacoma this week and put it up on the wall.
On the opposite wall hangs five of Thomas’ playing jerseys — the UW and his three NBA teams, plus last year’s Eastern Conference All-Star jersey.
Painted all around the gymnasium is a purple-colored stripe at the height of 5 feet, 9 inches — the same height that Thomas stands.
“To have my own court, and this stuff I brought, it is big time,” Thomas said.
Nearly two decades ago, Thomas said his parents would drop him off at open indoor gymnasiums throughout the city. One of them was at Al Davies Boys and Girls Club.
“This was life when he wasn’t at home,” said Keith Thomas, Isaiah’s father. “This is where he shared his dream time.”
Thomas starred at Curtis High School as a point guard for two seasons before going on to the University of Washington.
He was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft by Sacramento. After that, he played briefly with Phoenix — and is now an NBA All-Star with the Celtics.
But in the offseason, Thomas still lives in the area, and is active in charity work with this community, including hosting a charity all-star game involving other NBA players during Memorial Day weekend.
“I am who I am because of this city,” Thomas said.