By Matt Straub
I usually mock people who tweet at professional athletes. Some people go so over the top with their love of games and teams they think the athletes are sitting on Twitter reading their comment as though they’re friends.
Saturday night, I became a hypocrite. I tweeted an athlete. He’ll likely never see what I sent him, and if he does, I doubt he’ll care that I took the time to write. After all, thousands of other people I usually make fun of did the same thing Saturday.
None of that matters. I had to tell Isaiah Thomas what I thought of him.
Sports are important to me. Too important, probably. One of the reasons I left a wonderful job in sports, one I miss every day, was so I could see more of the sports I love instead of being limited to the ones I cover. The games have been a family tradition for me and my loved ones. Whether it was going to games with my dad or brother since I was a kid, or smiling this week as I listened to my mother scream at the Celtics to get a rebound, watching my teams has always been more than a hobby. They’ve been a reason for us to come together.
Sometimes, maintaining such passion is hard. If I learned anything in my profession, it was that some athletes don’t care as much as their fans do. The number this applies to is lower than critics like to make it out to be, but one is too many.
Isaiah Thomas isn’t one of those guys. He is a player a family who watches more games in a year than many will in their lives could get behind. He might be my mom’s favorite Celtic ever. The reason he buried himself so deep in the hearts of his fans wasn’t because he scored a lot of points, though his stats certainly help. The “Little Guy,” is special because you knew when you watched him play you were going to get his best. Sometimes his best wasn’t great, sometimes it was incredible. Whatever he had that night, however, was what you got.
Thomas drives on players more than a foot taller than he is. He works through and around double and triple-teams, and he provides energy for his teammates and his team’s fan base. When his younger sister died in a horrific car wreck, he grieved more publicly than anyone, famous or not, should ever have to. He also showed up for his team and his fans. We’ll never be able to truly understand his emotions or reasoning, but those who watched him could still marvel at what he did, somehow guiding a flawed roster to the conference finals, and doing so while fighting through his family’s crisis, dental surgery (hours of it came on game day) and, finally, a hip issue which has now ended his season.
Even a fully-healthy Thomas wasn’t going to get Boston past Cleveland. The ride to the conference finals, however, through an improbable regular season led by an improbably great player, was worth it. For more than seven months, we got to watch an athlete play the way fans say they would if they ever got the chance. At the same time, Thomas made himself a part of the city’s fabric, doing a great number of charitable acts in the community. He has reached the point where the Celtics probably can’t trade him this summer or their fans would riot.
More important to me, he gained my respect. I’ve seen other great players, but few have given their hearts and bodies to the franchise the way Thomas did this year. My brother and I are already planning to go next year when the Celtics get back to the conference finals. Next year, if the Celtics play things right, Isaiah Thomas will have much more help and the series against LeBron and his friends will be much more competitive.
Until then, the throttling the Celtics are taking right now won’t be what I remember from this season. I’ll look back at the way a 5-foot-9 player with no business being on the floor took over a franchise and won a place in my (and my mom’s) heart.
I just wanted him to know.