A player taking to The Players’ Tribune to address something like a recent trade or retirement isn’t new. It’s actually become fairly common place and in general, results are mixed. Sometimes the pieces hit home, sometimes they take a big swing and miss. When the dust finally settled on the big Isaiah Thomas/Kyrie Irving trade, it was only a matter of time before one of the players involved would head to The Players’ Tribune to tell their side of the story.
Isaiah Thomas has struck first.
Thomas’ farewell to Boston went up on The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday and to say it was a heartfelt goodbye to a city that adopted him and championed him is an understatement. It’s a massive understatement.
Yet in addition to being full of heart and passion and emotion, Thomas’ goodbye is incredibly real. It might be the realest thing you read all day. All of that – the heart, the passion and the emotion are so real that you feel them right along with Thomas. And like Grande, the voice of the Celtics, said in his tweet, it makes complete sense to anyone who saw Thomas play during his brief run with the Celtics. Thomas routinely gave his all, left every ounce of himself on the floor. It’s why the reaction was so strong when a couple of dudes posted a video of them burning a Thomas jersey. It wasn’t just completely unnecessary, it was absurd; it was completely asinine.
The entire piece is worth reading, but here are the five realest passages.
1. The Phone Call From Boston GM Danny Ainge Was a Complete Surprise
Thomas had just returned home from a quick trip to Miami and was in a celebratory mood, having just celebrated his one year anniversary with his wife Kayla. He missed Ainge’s call, but from the tone of the text Ainge sent soon after, he felt it was about something serious.
“I just traded you.”
Simple as that. No big words, no big speech. Though I guess when it comes to shit like that, there’s not much more to say.
“To where.” That’s all I could manage.
“To the Cavaliers, for Kyrie.”
And that’s when, like — man. You ever been on the phone, and someone says something … and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, I don’t want to be on the phone anymore? Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment.
Danny started going on about everything I’ve done for the city of Boston, and for the Celtics organization, both on and off the court. About what a great player I am, and how I’m going to be great in Cleveland. You know, telling me that type of stuff. And it was just like … at that point in time? I definitely didn’t want to hear none of that.”
Thomas would eventually cut Ainge off, telling him that he had to go, feeling that there was really nothing left that had to be said.
2. When He Told His Sons, One Was Pumped, the Other Was Concerned About Skate Parks
Thomas’ two sons were with his mother at the time and Thomas wanted them to hear it from him before anyone else. They were able to FaceTime with them to tell them of the trade and that they’d be moving again.
“The boys had been staying at my mom’s while Kayla and I were away, and so as soon as we got home from the airport, we FaceTimed them. I knew the news was bound to leak sooner or later, and I wanted to make sure that they heard it from me. And so I told them what had happened: Dad got traded.
James, my oldest — I guess he really is his father’s son, because he asked the same first question I did. “To where?”
“Cleveland. They traded me for Kyrie.” And I’m pretty sure you know what came next.
“LEBRON! LEBRON JAMES! Dad — Dad. You get to play with LeBron James!”
Jaiden, though, he’s my little guy, maybe a little more sensitive — and he loves Boston more than anyone. So I knew the news was potentially going to be more hurtful for him. And just looking at his reaction, when he heard, I could tell I was right. He seemed kind of heartbroken.
I said, “Jaiden, are you happy or are you sad?”
And he said, “Because Cleveland probably doesn’t have skate parks.”
He’s big on skating and stuff. So he was definitely upset with that. (Cleveland, if y’all got skate parks, @ me on Twitter.)”
The good news is that more than a few people from the greater Cleveland area were happy to oblige, tweeting at Thomas about various skate parks he should check out.
3. Thomas Feels There’s a Valuable Lesson to be Learned From the Trade
The idea of sports being a business is always talked about, but is often forgotten when it matters most. On a similar note, fans always complain about a player lacking loyalty, but don’t respond similarly when it’s a team exhibiting a lack of loyalty. It should be two-way street and Thomas hopes we might get closer to that after the trade.
“Plus, in a lot of ways, I actually think this was a good lesson. Not only for me, but for the league as a whole. And for the fans and the media, too, you know, just in terms of how they talk about guys changing teams. I was thinking about that last year with KD (Kevin Durant) and his free agency — about how people gave him such a hard time for doing what he felt was best for him and his future. How they turned him into a villain, just for doing what was his right to do as a free agent in this league. Suddenly, it was, “Oh, he’s selfish,” or, “Oh, he’s a coward.” Suddenly, just for doing business on his end, and doing right by himself, he was portrayed as this bad guy.
But that’s what I think my trade can show people. I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for? That’s why people need to fix their perspective. It’s like, man — with a few exceptions, unless we’re free agents, 99 times out of 100, it’s the owners with the power. So when players are getting moved left and right, and having their lives changed without any say-so, and it’s no big deal … but then the handful of times it flips, and the player has control … then it’s some scandal? Just being honest, but — to me, that says a lot about where we are as a league, and even as a society. And it says a lot about how far we still have to go.”
Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2016 to sign with the Golden State Warriors and was immediately roasted by fans for selling out and abandoning them. It’s a common reaction among fan bases who feel jilted when a beloved player leaves. It’s an understandable reaction, but not necessarily the right reaction.
4. The Trade Was So Painful Because of How Much Thomas Had Come to Love Boston
The honesty in which Thomas talks about the trade and how it felt to have to leave Boston is something you don’t get a lot in professional sports. He lays it bare, lays it all out there. It’s equal parts refreshing and tremendously sad.
“At the same time, though, people gotta understand. Like, even with all of this being said … man … it still hurt. It still hurt bad. And I hope people can understand that when I say it hurt, it isn’t directed at anyone. I’m not saying I was hurt by anyone, or wronged by anyone, or betrayed. I’m just saying, man, I’m only human. I may act like a tough guy on the court. And I may seem like I have ice in my veins when I’m competing. But at the same time — it ain’t ice, really. I got blood and I got a heart like everyone else.
And so when I say this hurts, man — just know that it isn’t because of anything anyone else did. It’s only because of something I did.
I fell in love with Boston.”
The love Thomas felt for Boston was reciprocated ten fold by Celtics’ fans. He was easily the team’s most popular player and earlier in the summer, his Celtics’ jersey was the seventh most popular one in the league.
5. Thomas Bonded With Celtics’ Fans Who Rejected the Idea of the Team Trying to Rebuild Rather Than Win
When the Celtics traded for Thomas, they were very much in the process of trying to build things back up from the ashes of the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Ray Allen era that led to a resurgence for the Celtics and a championship. Thomas was seen as another asset for Ainge, a building block, certainly not the franchise player he would soon become.
And I think that’s why I got along so well with the city of Boston, and why we connected with each other like we did. All my life, all I’d been doing was winning, and playing great basketball. But now, suddenly, as a pro, people were telling me that I had to be a bench player — and that the best I could hope for was to be the scorer on a rebuilding team. And it’s kind of similar for this era of Celtics: As long as the C’s had been around, all they’d done was win, and play great basketball. But now, suddenly, people were telling their fans that there was going to be a rebuild, and that they were going to be a lottery team for a while. And it’s almost like me and the city, my Celtics teams and these Celtics fans, we both shared the same heart, that same mentality. We both just wanted to win — now — and neither of us had any time for our critics. It was like, Man, fuck the lottery.
And I think it just sort of developed into this special thing, this special connection and moment. Everyone’s got their numbers and statistics all crunched — and all these experts, man, they think they have this entire league figured out. But they ain’t never figured me right. And they ain’t never figured the importance of having a winning culture — from the fans, to the players, to the coaches, to the front office, all the way up to the top. And we had that here. This was the first place, the first organization, the first group of fans in the league that didn’t take one look at me, take one look at my size, and put me into the same role as always. The Boston Celtics let me have a chance to be great. And I’ll never forget that.
And Boston will never forget Thomas. That’s for sure.