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  Thu, October 16, 2003


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There's no doubting Thomas' ability

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

Isiah Thomas slowly is coming to grips with what happened, but part of his mind continues to reel.

"I was surprised, disappointed, shocked, all those things," said Thomas, who was fired as coach of the Indiana Pacers on Aug. 27. "But this is an opportunity for me to teach my son and daughter that when you get knocked down, you can't just lie there and say, 'Oh, poor me.' I got fired, so I have to try to move on and find the next opportunity."

And when that next opportunity comes along, Thomas -- a former part-owner of the Raptors and the club's first general manager -- hopes it will be as a head coach in the NBA.

FUN IN THE GYM

"My best personality comes out in the gym," Thomas said recently after a Detroit Pistons practice, which he was attending as an observer courtesy of coach Larry Brown. "I can wear a suit and tie and handle myself in a boardroom, but the most fun I've ever had in my life has been in the gym. I've been going to the gym since I was three years old so if I can make a job out of it, that's great."

Thomas believed his Pacers were headed in the right direction. Yes, the club faded after a fast start last season and was upset by the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. But as Thomas pointed out, there have been many examples in sports of a young, talented team suffering a humbling post-season defeat before catapulting to the next level.

Thomas never won a playoff series in his three seasons with the Pacers, but that on its own is not grounds for firing. The Indiana club Thomas took over in the fall of 2000 was a stripped-down version of the one that had gone to the NBA final the previous spring.

Many said the writing was on the wall for Thomas when his old nemesis Larry Bird -- who coached the Pacers to the final in 2000 -- took over as president of the team last July. Seven weeks later, Thomas was out and former Pacers assistant Rick Carlisle was back in.

The timing of Thomas' firing was harsh, since it came so late in the summer that it was impossible for him to find another job in the NBA. So now he's visiting various training camps and practices, trying to learn some tricks of the trade that will make him a better coach down the line.

"It's a great chance for me to learn from some of the best basketball minds," Thomas said. "It's different than when I was a player. You saw a guy with a good move, you tried to copy that move and put it into your game. But when you're coaching in this league, you're pretty much alone."

Thomas' reputation essentially has been under attack in Toronto ever since he left the Raptors in the fall of 1997. It has reached the point that some members of the local hoops community openly were cheering when Thomas got fired by the Pacers, as if his crimes in Toronto were so onerous he never should be allowed to work again.

But making Thomas the scapegoat for all that ailed the Raptors in their turbulent early days is unfair. Yes, he made mistakes, but he hardly was alone on that front.

Remember, Thomas was not a major player on the ownership front as John Bitove, Allan Slaight and Steve Stavro kick-boxed each other in a struggle that ultimately led to the formation of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. Thomas was not orchestrating that conflict. In fact, it was his inability to influence it that most frustrated him.

Many people forget there were some pretty good times for the Raptors as they got their feet wet as an expansion club. There were more hopeful days than despondent ones in those first two seasons. To look back now and dismiss as disastrous everything that happened before MLSEL was born serves the current company's public-relations purposes, but it is revisionist history.

NOT UNIQUE

Ultimately, Isiah Thomas was not, and is not, a devil or an angel. He's just a guy, a former great NBA player who has had his ups and downs since he unlaced his sneakers for the last time. And in that regard, he is not unique.

"Any time you're in a gym, around basketball, guys sweating, that's what you like," Thomas said, almost wistfully.

Love him or hate him, Isiah Thomas should be working.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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