The kid seemed too good to pass up. When Isiah Thomas, then
executive vice president of the Toronto Raptors, phoned NBC
Sports president Dick Ebersol last fall to inquire about
becoming the network's new NBA color analyst, Ebersol couldn't
resist. "Of course I was interested," he says.
Never mind that Thomas had never broadcast a game. Here was a
former point guard who had twice led the Detroit Pistons to the
NBA title, a 12-time All-Star who had been president of the
players' association, a part owner and the de facto general
manager of the Raptors, and a man with the most infectious smile
this side of Magic. Color? Thomas would provide a spectrum.
"I come into this as a rookie," says Thomas, whose broadcast
partner is the seamless Bob Costas. "I don't come into this
professing to be the top guy."
Indeed, nearly three months into his new career, Thomas falls
somewhere between Madden (John) and maddening (John Tesh). O.K.,
closer to the latter. Despite his charismatic presence, Thomas
has a soft voice that doesn't engage viewers the way Hot Rod
Hundley's does. His energy level wavers during a telecast, and
he says "You know" too much, as in, "Yeah, you know, we, you
know, Jordan when he guards you, you know, he shuts you down,
Here's our halftime report at the midpoint of this rookie's
Twenty-Four-Second Violations: During the Feb. 22 Orlando
Magic-Los Angeles Lakers game, Thomas took :28 off the clock
discussing Penny Hardaway's market value. Meanwhile, two
possessions elapsed. A similar transgression occurred the
following Sunday during the Utah Jazz-Houston Rockets game when
Thomas waxed nostalgic about John Stockton for 31 seconds. The
rook should take a cue from Costas: Keep it brief.
Loose Calls: It's O.K. to have fun, as when the Lakers'
Shaquille O'Neal followed his own errant shot and dunked it and
Thomas exclaimed, "Uugghh! Shaq Daddy's in the house!" But what
was he thinking when the Rockets were trailing the Jazz by two
with 1:06 remaining and he said, "As a point guard you are
thinking now about who's in foul trouble"? We wanted to know who
should be getting the ball.
Second-Shot Opportunities: During the Magic-Lakers telecast,
Thomas noted that when his former coach, Chuck Daly (now of
Orlando), has a hot hand on offense, "he will milk it and milk
it and milk it." At the Houston-Utah game he made good points
early (e.g., the Rockets direct their offense almost exclusively
to the left side), then revisited them too often. On the subject
of repetition, Thomas says "energy" far too often.
Three-pointers: Thomas called the Pistons' acquisition of Brian
Williams "a mistake." After Orlando's Danny Schayes took a
charge from the Lakers' Robert Horry, Thomas said of Schayes,
"He reminds me a lot of Bill Laimbeer [except that Laimbeer]
would've slugged him right in the jaw." For such candor, he gets
nothing but net.
During the first two months of Costas's rookie season (1974-75)
with the ABA's St. Louis Spirits, he uttered an on-air expletive
and arrived for a game midway through the first quarter. He got
better. So can Thomas.
Rod Hundley's does.