Heartwarming is what it is.
More than ever, Isaiah Thomas is the walking validation for everybody who pulled for underdogs, and for those who believe that the power of will can overcome the widespread forces of disbelief.
These are the best stories in sports, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.
On Sunday evening, Thomas will represent the Boston Celtics in the NBA All-Star Game. But in the process, he also represents Tacoma, the University of Washington, and little kids who dream big everywhere.
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Through electronic media, he recently passed along a picture of himself holding his All-Star uniform, with the caption that touted a vision he once had that has now come true.
The Curtis High and UW product is listed at 5-foot-9 (wink), and will be between 3 and 16 inches shorter than everybody else on the court in this game, but his performance easily could be among the most exciting.
To the sound of Celtics fans chanting “MVP,” the sixth-year pro is second in the NBA in scoring (29.9) to Russell Westbrook, leading the likes of NBA marquee talents like LeBron James (25.9), Kevin Durant (25.8) and Steph Curry (24.7).
In a remarkable statistic given the rich history of the Celtics — carried through the decades by Bill Russell, Bob Cousey, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and others — Thomas just set a team record by scoring more than 20 points in 41 consecutive games.
As for clutch dependability, Thomas leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring with nearly an 11-point average. Against Miami in December, he pumped in 29 of his career-high 52 points in the fourth quarter.
To be clear, the pocket phenomenon we watched grow up here is on the verge of superstardom.
He may be the best thing the NBA has going for it today. Given his size, his stunning ability to score and distribute the basketball, and his ineffable personality, Thomas is the rare blend of Everyman and Superman.
For his 28th birthday on Feb. 7, the NBA released a video including one Thomas highlight from every game this season. Check it out online; it’s a stunning series of plays in which he defies the laws of physics, bodies in motion and probability.
He continues to be, in the NBA, what he’s been at every level: A showman, a winner, a basketball magician, and a player with more fan appeal than can be imagined.
The memories he left with fans of Husky basketball are countless, but the one that sticks out as a display of unsurpassed athletic hustle came on a play that had nothing to do with the more visible last-second, game-winning baskets.
Arizona had come to Seattle in January of 2011, and the game was close about halfway through the second half. On an important possession, the ball was deflected off a Huskies player under the Wildcats’ basket.
Memory of unprecedented moments can be embellished over time. But here’s how I remember it: The ball was still in the air, but already seemed well out of bounds when Thomas took off after it. At the baseline, he flew, fully horizontal, grabbed the ball in the air and flipped it to a teammate back on the floor as he skidded, face-first, out of sight up the tunnel.
He not only saved the ball, but hustled back to the offensive end, got his hands on the ball, and fired it to a teammate for an assist on a 3-point basket. The Huskies went on to win, and Thomas forever established a threshold for effort on a basketball floor.
The fact that he could pull off the physicality that the play demanded seemed secondary to the notion that he even considered trying such daring play in the first place.
But he has impressed in so many ways over the years. I interviewed him in Portland before a game against the Trail Blazers once early in his career. There he was in the locker room, face buried in a schoolbook. He was locked in the grind of an NBA season, but he was finishing up his degree work at UW, and he had studying to do.
Last week, he returned to Tacoma to dedicate a basketball court he funded at the Al Davies Boys and Girls Club. “I am who I am because of this city,” he said.
See, he’s a big-timer who doesn’t act like it, a man who never forgot where he came from.
Keep this up, and somebody’s going to have to name a street or a park after this guy.
It’s not just that he had a vision of greatness for himself, it’s that he’s passing it on to others.
And just seeing what Isaiah Thomas has been able to do makes it seem all the more real and possible for other dreamers.