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Isiah Thomas: Basketball as Life

Isiah Thomas at the New York Knicks offices.
NPR News/Tracy Wahl /
Isiah Thomas at the New York Knicks offices.

For NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, basketball isn't just a game. And it's not merely a business, either; it's a way of life. During his playing days in Detroit, Thomas was known both for his leadership and for having a desire to win that brought him from childhood poverty to superstardom. He was also famous for keeping an angelic smile on his face, even as his Pistons -- often merely called the Bad Boys -- scrambled and scrapped their way to two NBA titles.

Along the way, Thomas learned lessons from his family, his coaches and his rivals. From siblings who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction to coaches who pushed him to excel, Thomas brought a world of experience onto the court. His duels with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan are legendary -- and Thomas can still reel off his tally of where they all stand.

Now the president of operations for the New York Knicks, Thomas has earned both criticism and success for his efforts to revamp a team that has strayed far from its once-elite standing. For his part, Thomas says basketball reflects the personality -- the spirit -- of anyone who plays the sport. In an interview with NPR's John Ydstie, Thomas discusses his concept of the game and how he reconciles that with some of today's less spiritually inclined NBA players.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.