HOUSTON – Isaiah Thomas’ confidence makes up for a whole lot of what he misses. What he lacks in size, he makes up in intangibles, like leadership and stage presence, respect and command of a room. The Sacramento Kings point guard has gone farther in his basketball career than any of the experts have predicted because of his confidence.
It’s something he’s always had, his father says. To have that high level of self-belief at his size, his height? James Thomas believes his son’s gift of resolve must be heaven sent.
“I think at his level, where he’s one of the smaller guys, this has to be something that you were born with,” the elder Thomas told Cowbell Kingdom proudly hours before his son took the stage at the Rising Stars Challenge yesterday evening. “A gift from God that just happens to be (that) they chose you Isaiah to take the torch and run with it.”
James can’t think of many periods in his son’s life where his confidence was shaken. The only time doubt may have crept into young Isaiah’s mind was when doctors told him he wasn’t going to get any bigger. That 5’9, on a good day, was his ceiling.
Still, he persevered, his father proudly states.
“It didn’t matter how tall he was,” James said. “How big you were. He was going to get past you or through you with this basketball. And he’s controlled his destiny with that. And so it’s really hard to not see why he’s (succeeding) at this level right now because he’s got the heart, the desire that any of the big kids got and I think, a little bit more.”
Growing up in Tacoma, Wa., Isaiah was just a stonesthrow away from Seattle, a hotbed of basketball talent. Surrounding the 24-year-old guard in his youth were positive influences that helped shape and cultivate his confidence. Guys like Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and even former King Spencer Hawes come to mind for Isaiah’s father.
Isaiah also played AAU ball with Jamelle McMillan, son of Mr. Sonic himself, Nate McMillan. That connection led to a relationship with another Sonics great, Gary Payton, who became another influential figure in Isaiah’s basketball development.
“He’s like my son,” The Glove said of the Kings’ point guard.
Isaiah’s high level of confidence is not shocking to Payton. He knew from the moment he started mentoring him that there was something different about Isaiah. Payton, known for his own swagger, talks with an undoubted sense of conviction about Thomas’ success.
“A lot of people were coming in saying he was a small guy,” Payton said after he was announced as a finalist to this year’s hall of fame. “But I said, that’s probably the smallest guy with a lot of toughness and dog in him that anybody (could) ever have.”
He remembers a moment that embodied one of Isaiah’s greatest displays of confidence – the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament Championship against Arizona.
“They won it and they wasn’t supposed to,” Payton recalled. “And he got MVP and he made big shots. I said, ‘there it is right there’.”
Klay Thompson has been witness to Isaiah’s confidence for quite some time. Before he was drafted to the Golden State Warriors, Thompson spent three seasons at Washington State, rival to Isaiah’s Washington Huskies. And every year until their junior year, Isaiah’s Huskies came out on top.
“I knew he was going to be an NBA player in college,” Thompson said of his UW counterpart hours before they squared off yet again in the annual rookie/sophomore game. “You know, he’s a great point guard. People thought he was a two-guard coming out. But nah, he could really pass the ball. It’s like man, I can’t get rid of this kid.”
The son of a former Laker great, Thompson is a California kid, born and bred. But during his time with the Cougars, he got the chance to play against other kids just like Isaiah with Washington roots. Isaiah’s confidence, he believes, originates from the area that raised him.
“He’s got that Seattle/Tacoma swag,” the fellow sophomore said of the Kings guard. “It’s just something about it up there and you can sense it about him.
“But to be that, to be his stature, you gotta be confident and he definitely is,” Thompson added.
Isaiah’s resolve and determination are unyielding. They’re what’s gotten him this far and he doesn’t take them for granted. For the Kings starting point guard, every day has and always will be about confidently defying the odds.
“He’s always played with that chip on his shoulder, that I can play that regardless,” his father James said reflectively. “I don’t care how small they think I am. I can play.”