NBA free agency officially started Sunday afternoon, and nobody knows yet where two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas is going to end up.
But for at least one day, Thomas was in Spokane for the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament on earth. The Washington native made an appearance at Hoopfest, where he played a game of H-O-R-S-E against Philip Croft, a wheelchair basketball and track athlete. Croft gave him a bit of a scare, but Thomas, ever the competitor, came away with the win even as he took all of his shots sitting in a chair. The event was put together by Hoopfest sponsor Guardian Life Insurance to show that "Disability is Not Inability."
I caught up with Thomas just before the game of H-O-R-S-E. We talked about street ball growing up in Tacoma, his Hoopfest dream team, and what we can expect from him next season in the NBA.
Responses were slightly edited for length. (Additional photos below.)
INLANDER: So what brought you out to Spokane today?
THOMAS: We partnered with Guardian Life and I'm here to show my support, to see these guys compete and play hard and have fun and at the end of the day, you know, put smiles on people's faces. I think it It kind of describes my career as well, like, never getting counted out no matter what the situation is. And I think it's big for them. Because for people who have a disability, they just keep going, they're out here playing hard competing and figuring out ways to have fun. And they're normal just like everybody else. So when this came about, I was just like — I felt like there were similarities to my life and what they have to go through to continue to push through no matter the circumstance.
Have you been to Hoopfest before?
I've never played in it. I've been about five, six years ago, and it was an unbelievable experience. So to be able to be here and see so many basketball players and see everybody having fun, it's just a dope place to be.
Did you play in any 3-on-3 tournaments on the West Side when you were growing up?
I remember — [former Seattle Superonic] Detlef Schrempf had a 3-on-3 tournament that I played in. I was in, like, fifth grade. And it was right on the parking lot of KeyArena. It was fun and it reminded me of this. Obviously it wasn't as big but it was definitely something — I want to get my kids involved in things like this.
Did you play street ball growing up?
Yeah, yeah, I was everywhere. Wherever there was a basketball hoop — outside, inside, we were there.
How did playing street ball help your game? How is it different?
The physicality. It teaches you the lesson of how to adjust. You adjust to being more physical and not calling fouls all the time. Some communities you go in and there's no rules when you play outside. In some there are rules. So you've got to be able to adjust and also play the game at a high level no matter if it's inside or outside.
Do you have an itch to get out and play right now?
I do. I really want to play. But I know I can't. I don't have a team. But next year, I think I'm gonna bring the team in.
What would be your 3-on-3 dream team?
I'm not gonna play with NBA players. I'm gonna get my closest friends and we'll win it all, for sure.
If you had to pick NBA players who would it be?
Jamal Crawford. [Thinking]. Well, we'll need a big —
You could always play in the 6-foot-and-under division.
We don't want that, we want the best league and to win the best championship.
I'd probably just go me, Jamal Crawford, and like Nate Robinson or someone.
That'd be a tough team. What have you been doing since the season ended?
I've just been working out taking care of my family, being around my kids, my wife. But at the same time, working out building my body back up and just being ready for you know free agency and things like that. This is one of the first summers in two years that I'm able to work out and play basketball and have fun again.
What can we expect from you next year in the NBA?
It's all about opportunity. If I get the right opportunity I'll be able to show the world that I can play at a high level again and be who I was before the injuries. That's what I'll be looking for in free agency, going to the right place that's gonna give me a real opportunity to showcase my skills.
You feel like you can still play at the level you were at when you were an MVP candidate for the Boston Celtics?
Yeah, I know I can.