• When Lance Thomas signed to play for the New York Knicks, he made a commitment to better the community in the Tri-state area. With the help of teammate Damyean Dotson, they donated over 500 pairs of sneakers to the Department of Homeless Services.
By Dan Falkenheim
December 13, 2018

Puma Clyde’s accompanied the genesis of B-Boy culture in the Bronx and Starbury’s tried to initiate an affordable sneaker revolution, but another New York Knick is doing something else with sneakers. Lance Thomas isn’t selling them—he’s giving them away.

And he got other people to do the same. Thomas, alongside Knicks guard Damyean Dotson, orchestrated a sneaker drive at Sneakersnstuff in New York’s Meatpacking District. Friends and fans chummed it up with Thomas and Dotson, taking pictures and receiving autographs, and donated over 500 pairs of new and lightly worn sneakers, all of which went to the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

“I just know that I always have a bunch of random sneakers around my place that I never use,” Thomas said. “I know a lot of my teammates do as well. I just wanted to fill that void. There’s a lot of homeless families that don’t have those things we just take for granted.”

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At the Swedish sneaker boutique, cliques traded comments on each other’s kicks, with sample-sized wine cups in hand, and sneakers were displayed and appreciated as art. The sneaker game has transformed from a subculture into a mainstream phenomenon, and the craze lead the NBA to change its dress code. Players are now allowed to wear sneakers of any color.

But, even before that, Kristaps Porzingis debuted sneakers with unicorns on the outsoles (Thomas says those were pretty dope). Teammates Allonzo Trier, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke lead the locker room’s sneakerhead faction, according to Thomas, and each of them try to outdo each other. As for the rest, Noah Vonleh and Courtney Lee joined Thomas and Dotson and donated sneakers to the drive.

Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

“Everybody in New York loves sneakers,” Thomas said. “I remember cleaning my sneakers with a toothbrush—I still do it for my special pairs. But I also know everybody has those pair of sneakers they’re not going to wear anymore. And I know there are people who would benefit from those. I just want to close that gap and make sure everyone has a happy holiday.”

Thomas, 30, is the longest-tenured Knick and co-captain of the NBA’s youngest team. He promised fans before the team’s season opener his team would work as hard in the community as they would on and off the court. For Thomas, that isn’t just corporate speak.

After winning the NCAA Tournament with Duke, Thomas went undrafted in 2010. He began his professional career in the D-League, was signed and waived by the New Orleans Hornets in 2011, and then worked his way into the 2012 D League All-Star Game. The rollercoaster continued: Thomas earned a multiyear deal with the Pelicans, played 59 games in 2012-13, was waived, resigned, and waived again before spending a year in the Chinese Basketball Association.

He returned to the NBA and finally stuck with the New York Knicks in 2015. Raised in New Jersey, the Knicks were Thomas’s favorite team growing up.

“It makes you appreciate everything,” Thomas said. Now, in his fifth season with the franchise, Thomas is the second-oldest player on the team and a staple in the locker room. “I’ve worked hard for everything that I have. Now that I have the means and the platform to give back, it’s a no-brainer not to do it. I wanted to do what I can to maximize [my impact] while I’m playing.”

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Over the summer, Thomas and Dotson, along with teammate Isaiah Hicks, hosted a basketball clinic for New Heights Youth Organization’s Summer Academy. Thomas, who is one of the organization’s board members, lead drills with his teammates and took questions from the kids. Thomas has been sidelined since Nov. 9 after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery but, in the meantime, he has continued his off-the-court mentoring. Thomas spoke to students at St. Benedicts High (his alma matter) on Dec. 7 and initiated Monday night’s sneaker drive.

“Oh man, Lance is a terrific leader,” Dotson said. “He invited me here. This is his event, and he wanted me to be a part of it. Anything that involves giving back in the holiday season is amazing. [Thomas] does everything the right way, a great guy to follow in his footsteps.”

Thomas might not make an All-NBA team in his career. He won’t start a new trend in basketball sneaker culture like what Walt Frazier did in the 70’s with Puma, or what Stephon Marbury did in the 2000’s with his own line. But, this holiday season, Thomas is making good on his commitment to bettering the community—one sneaker at a time.

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