After a short hiatus, the NBA All Alphabet League returns!
Today we get to take a look at the T Team. This is undoubtedly a supremely talented side, with All Stars at every position including one of the greatest defensive centres ever to play the game, and a back court with talent to burn.
This team also contains some of the more interesting personalities to appear in the Alphabet League, from a tragic early career burnout to one of the most polarising players of his era, all the way through to a universally loved figure that overcame a near death experience, and a man who undoubtedly the gold standard for a teammate.
Point Guard – Isiah Thomas
Isiah Lord Thomas III (yes, there were two other men on this planet that shared that delightfully pompous moniker) is, despite Michael Jordan’s assumed protests, an all-time great NBA player. Thomas was an All Star on 12 occasions, starting the All Star game as a rookie and appearing in the mid-season show case through each and every season up to his last, where a torn achillies forced his retirement from the sport.
Thomas could perhaps best be described as Kyrie Irving, before there was Kyrie Irving. The diminutive guard was a masterful ball handler, who used his low centre of gravity and exceptional footwork to tie defenders in knots. His repeated dribbles through the legs, and especially his yo-yo dribble were a nightmare for defenders to read. Despite his 6’1” frame and slight build, Thomas was a wonderful finisher at the rim. If he got past you on his right hand, it was over: Thomas had an array of flips and runners at his disposal, as well as a deadly pull up jumper.
Thomas famously led his Pistons to back to back titles in 1989 and 1990, picking up a Finals MVP for his troubles. He put up 19.2 points, 9.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game over his 13 year career. Five All NBA berths – including 3 first teams – whilst playing in an era that featured Magic Johnson and John Stockton are testament to his standing in the game as a player.
Post playing career however, Thomas’s record is somewhat less accomplished.
As a coach, Thomas led the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks with varying degrees of success. With the Pacers, he made the playoffs in each of his 3 seasons. He also successfully managed the transition away from the veteran team of Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Chris Mullin and the Davis’ towards younger talents like Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Jamaal Tinsley and Brad Miller – a highly talented team that was derailed by The Malice in the Palace.
As Knicks coach, Thomas’ teams missed the playoffs in both of his seasons, with a squad largely of his own making. Thomas served as President of Basketball Operations in New York for 5 seasons: it didn’t go well. Thomas’ penchant for trading 1st round picks for (at best) middling veterans hamstrung the franchise for years, although more recent evidence suggests that the Knicks issue may start with the lead singer of a certain blues ensemble.
Thomas bought the old CBA in 1998, with the league going bankrupt less than 24 months later. He’s also endured his selection of legal difficulties, which we won’t delve into in this forum. As a broadcaster, Thomas has perhaps found his post career niche. His deep understanding of the game, his charismatic nature and his megawatt smile lend themselves perfectly to that forum.
Shooting Guard – David Thompson
Whilst this spot will more than likely be reserved for his namesake Klay at some point in the future, right now, David Thompson will lineup as the 2-guard for the T Team.
The original Skywalker, Thompson’s impact on the game was somewhat curtailed by injuries and drug addiction from his mid 20’s, which is a shame – he was on course to be an all time great of the game early in his career.
As a collegiate star at North Carolina State, Thompson and teammate Monte Towe were credited with introducing the alley-oop into the sport, although due to the Alcindor Rule, Thompson was not permitted to slam down those lobs. In fact, Thompson’s only collegiate dunk came in his final home game; it was promptly followed by a technical foul.
Thompson was drafted 1st overall in both the NBA and ABA, Thompson chose to play ABA ball, although at the end of his rookie season, the Nuggets were absorbed into the NBA. His first four seasons of professional basketball were simply electric. Thompson averaged 26.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks, as well as an innumerable amount of highlight plays.
One of the greatest single day’s in NBA history occurred on April 9, 1978 when, on the final day of the regular season, Thompson and George Gervin were battling it out for the scoring title. Thompson hung a career high 73 – including 32 in the 1st quarter alone - on the Pistons to take the clubhouse lead, before Gervin scored 63 – with 33 in the 2nd quarter – against the Jazz. Gervin ended up winning the battle by a measly .07 of a point per game.
A foot injury in 1980 was the beginning of the end for the high flying star. Whilst rehabilitating, Thompson’s loneliness and isolation saw him succumb to the lure of drugs. His cocaine addiction derailed his career. Despite making his 5th and final All Star game in 1983 as member of the Seattle Sonics, Thompson was a spent force.
He retired from the NBA at the conclusion of the 1984 season, aged a mere 29 years old.
As well as his 5 All Star appearances, Thompson was named All NBA/ABA on 3 occasions. He averaged 22.7 points, 4.1 boards, 3.3 assists and a steal through his career.