Sunday night, Seattle native and former Huskies star Isaiah Thomas took the floor for his Boston Celtics against the Chicago Bulls. Thomas, a NBA all-star, is the focal point for the No. 1 seed in the East, but all of this kind of went out the window two days ago when Thomas learned his 22-year-old sister Chyna died in a car accident in Federal Way.
Thomas was given the green light from his teammates and coaches to do whatever he wanted--play, don't play. Look, basketball is just a game, deal with yourself first.
Thomas suited up for game one and with cameras following him every step of the way, he laced em up. The narrative was set. Thomas...playing in pain...taking the court for his sister scoring a bunch of points in what we'd hope was a win, but unfortunately it was a loss.
Emotions can't bend the narrative to our wishes.
It's a narrative we've seen before in the world of sports, it's just a narrative I hate seeing in the world of sports. Charles Barkley took some flak for saying he felt uncomfortable watching Thomas cry before the game. And this is the dilemma we deal with when something as serious as death trickles into the world of something as not so serious like sports. It's just a weird combination, which will never feel right.
So, I don't blame Barkley for his thoughts. No one welcomes pain, it's an emotion we can't control--most of the time it consumes us. Some can handle it internally, others externally. Some can face it head on, others like to push it away.
Now, no one is knocking Thomas for crying. Quite the opposite. I haven't lost a sibling, but I've lost. And I've cried. And I've been broken. And I couldn't do what he's doing. The fact that Thomas is playing is unbelievably admirable and the media has an obligation to report the facts about his sister, but as far as narratives go, again, I wish the sports world didn't have to touch this.
Thomas has his reasons for playing and if he didn't want to play, we'd all understand...the only difference is that if he didn't play, we'd all talk about how the Celtics are playing a man down. How the series isn't the same. Well the series isn't the same and the team is a man down for all intents and purposes, but Thomas is out their doing his job.
Most of us can take days off in a situation like this and have someone fill in for us, but there is no replacing Isaiah Thomas. The team would directly be affected. Imagine having that personal burden while also dealing with this tragedy. He's a man who has worked tirelessly for years to get to this point and now...he's just trying to get through the day and do his job as best as he can to help his team win. It's an unbelievably selfless move.
Win or lose, Thomas still has to deal with this pain. We can twist the storyline to make him this hero of the moment, but for him, that's not fair either. Sports can be a distraction for some, but once the cameras are off, once the offseason begins...then what? The fans and media might recall upon his courageous efforts at points during the future as if it's part of some lifetime movie script, but no one writes how to deal with your little sister's death...and cope with it forever.
So while sports and reality intertwine here, I just hope we leave the stats and game notes out of it.
I don't care if the Celtics are swept 4-zip. I don't care if Isaiah Thomas drops 50 points in Game 2...that doesn't dictate my thoughts. His sister's death and what happens on the court should be independent of each other. Strength isn't amplified by his performance, his strength was already on display before the game even started. Head down...sitting on the bench...crying.
Coping with reality while sports has gotten in the way.
Now, while I demean the thought of results in a scenario like this, I'm not questioning the power of sports. The sense of community around Isaiah Thomas was amazing to see and that started with teammate Avery Bradley consoling him before the game...
And the support extended well beyond teammates...during the game...the thunderous roars from the Boston crowd when Thomas dropped that first three pointer gave us chills...
So not only does he have his team and the fans in Boston, but he also as the NBA community sending him love as Kevin Durant was just one of many players to be thinking about I-T at a time like this...
Other players in other sports like Russell Wilson took to twitter to show their respect for the man...
and well beyond any prominent figures...people who just understand and sympathize with Thomas expressed their thoughts and prayers
This is what we love about sports...
Thomas will take the court tomorrow night and then fly out west for his sister's funeral and to be with family.