“What people forget’: Isiah Thomas explains his role in creating the Toronto Raptors
Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas is one of the best point guards to ever play the game of basketball. After years of playoff heartbreak in the 1980s, the man affectionately known as ‘Zeke’ finally broke through in 1989 and 1990, leading the Bad Boys Pistons to back-to-back championships. However, only four years after getting his second ring, Thomas was forced to retire after he suffered a Torn Achilles at age 32. But when asked whether Thomas regrets not rehabbing and making a return similar to that of his frenemy Magic Johnson, his answer is a big, resounding ‘no’.
Speaking with Peter Vecsey in the Hoop du Jour podcast, Thomas elaborated on why he thinks his decision to proceed with his retirement was well worth it, even if this phase of his career is something many forget.
“What people always forget, I am the co-founder of the Toronto Raptors. I am the only player that left the floor and became an owner – a president of a team, and started up the Toronto Raptors. So I left the floor in April, and in May, I was named owner, a president of a team,” Thomas said.
For all of the flak Isiah Thomas gets for his tenure as a Knicks executive during the 2000s, his stint with the Raptors wasn’t half-bad despite the lack of team success. His track record in drafting, in particular, stands out. In three consecutive drafts, Thomas and the Raptors front office selected players who went on to had solid careers in Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, and his crown jewel, Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, who blossomed into one of the best players in the league with the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets.
Nonetheless, perhaps part of the reason why few remember the major part Thomas played in establishing the Raptors was the sour note in which Thomas’ relationship with the franchise ended. Thomas pushed for a majority stake in the Raptors, but talks went nowhere and he later on sold his share in 1997 after a dispute with then-majority owner Allen Slaight.
Still, after Isiah Thomas’ departure, the Raptors went on to acquire Vince Carter in the draft, becoming a playoff team in Carter’s sophomore season before McGrady bolted for the Magic in free agency. 25 years after Thomas joined the franchise, the Raptors broke through, winning a championship on the back of Kawhi Leonard’s insane mercenary stint. But Thomas’ role in shaping the Raptors’ identity as an expansion team should not be lost in the archives amid all the team’s recent success.