It’s hard to defend Isiah Thomas.
Just as this was true on the basketball court for so many years, this is also the case in the court of public opinion now. He hasn’t done himself many favors in the years following his retirement as a player who wasn’t well-liked in the first place. There are many rumors and also a few truths that make Thomas one of the villains of basketball.
That trend will apparently continue.
Once news surfaced that Magic Johnson, who used to be thought of as one of Thomas’ closest friends, had major issues with him as a person and a player, the shock spread like wildfire. But because Magic is so much more well-liked both around the league and out of it, most people have taken his side. Perhaps everyone should re-evaluate their stance on the matter.
As was mentioned, Thomas is regarded by many of his peers as a bit of a jerk. But no matter how much of a jerk you are, you deserve to have your friends confront you with any issues they have with you instead of airing those beefs publicly or, worse, in a book. Some of the problems Johnson mentions date back to the late 80s, around two decades ago.
Maybe I’m naive, but I tend to believe Thomas’ claims that he is "blindsided" by these allegations and revelations. In the 20 years since, has there never been an opportunity to talk about this? There are numerous pictures and video clips of the two smiling and in various forms of embrace in the last decade. At the very least, it appears that they are being more than "cordial," as Magic described their relationship of late. Is this the way you act when you feel someone has betrayed you? Take some time, sit down and address your problems with someone after whom you named a room in your house and used to call a close friend. It’s the right thing to do.
If Johnson really feels that Thomas spread rumors that he was gay, why wait until you decide to write a book to address it? There is talk that the two have known about the rumors for a long time, but the first time it’s brought up is in the days prior to the book release? That is, at the very least, poor form. If you felt that way back then, why not say something then?
And while we’re on the subject, Magic should know that it didn’t take Isiah saying anything to start those rumors. People wondered about Magic when he was kissing Isiah before tipoff. When he contracted the HIV virus, to many people it was the validation of their suspicions. At a time when the public was poorly educated about HIV, AIDS and homosexuality, Johnson had already put the puzzle together for most people to even question the matter. When the possibility of Magic continuing to play was derailed by other players’ phobias, Thomas was the person there defending his right to play and trying to educate people on the matter. It was something a friend would do.
Johnson also discloses in his book that he had a hand in keeping Thomas off of the Dream Team. Johnson’s account says that no one on the team took a stand to include Thomas, who was clearly more talented than some of the teams inclusions (Christian Laettner, I’m looking at you). Michael Jordan has long taken the blame for keeping Thomas away, instead we find out that one of Thomas’ alleged friends was involved as well.
Aside from that incident, Thomas speaks of a mid-air forearm shiver he took from Magic in the 1988 Finals, denied use of the Lakers’ facilities when he had an injury when he believed Magic had the power to allow him entry, and other forms of two-facedness. The interview he gives SI.com (which you can, and should, read here) seems to be very passionate and truthful. It could all be smoke and mirrors, of course. It wouldn’t be the first time that Thomas tried to make us believe something that might have been false.
All I’m saying is that people shouldn’t be so quick to jump on Johnson’s side here. If he were a true friend, he would have reconciled these things with Thomas long ago instead of letting them lie dormant until it could benefit him financially. If he were a true friend, he might not have done some of the things Thomas claims he has done. A true friendship asks tough questions, attacks rumors, stands up to adversity and isn’t afraid to shed blood, sweat or tears for those close to them.
It’s something that even a man with character as questionable as Isiah’s deserves.