Isiah Lord Thomas III (1961 – )

NY Knicks head coach Isiah Thomas, Madison Square Garden
Image ©John A. Angelillo/Corbis

Professional basketball star Isiah Lord Thomas III was the Detroit Pistons’ point guard from 1981-1994, helping to lead the team to back-to-back National Basketball Association (NBA) championships in 1989 and 1990. Thomas was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History during the Association’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

Isiah Thomas, nicknamed “Zeke,” was born on April 30, 1961 in Chicago, Illinois to Mary Thomas, a single mom who raised her nine children after their father abandoned the family in 1964. The family lived in poverty, sometimes without food or heat, in West Chicago while Mary Thomas ran the youth center at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Chicago. Her life as a single mother was dramatized in a 1989 television movie, “A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story.”

Thomas received a scholarship to attend St. Joseph High School, a private high school in Westchester, Illinois (the location for the 1994 documentary film Hoop Dreams). Thomas led St. Joseph to the Illinois State championship game during his junior season. After high school, Thomas was recruited by the Indiana University Hoosiers to play for Coach Bobby Knight.

During his freshman year at Indiana, Thomas led the Hoosiers to a 21-8 record and won a Big Ten championship. In his sophomore season, Thomas led Indiana to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship. He scored 23 of the Hoosier’s 63 points and was voted most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament.
Isiah Thomas made himself eligible for the 1981 NBA draft after his sophomore year and was the number two pick nationally. He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and was selected for the NBA All-Star game 12 times in his fourteen years with Detroit. When Thomas finished his career with the Pistons, he had recorded 18,822 points, 9,061 assists, and 1,861 steals.  The Pistons retired his number 11 jersey, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

Since retiring from basketball, Thomas has been an executive with the Toronto Raptors team as well as the Continental Basketball association, a television sports commentator, head coach with the Indiana Pacers, and head coach and executive with New York Knicks.

In 2006, Thomas and the Madison Square Garden organization were sued for sexual harassment by Anucha Brown Sanders, the Knicks’ senior vice president for marketing. In the highly publicized trial the following year, Thomas and the Knicks lost and were ordered to pay Browne Sanders $11.6 million in one of the largest sexual harassment judgments in U.S. history. He left the Knicks’ organization and in April 2009 became the head basketball coach of the Florida International University Golden Panthers. In 2010, he announced he would rejoin the Knicks as a part-time consultant.