This Is for Boston
SEP 6 2017
ISAIAH THOMAS / CONTRIBUTOR
PHOTO BY CHARLES KRUPA/AP IMAGES
GUARD / CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
It’s funny, I’d just been celebrating.
When I got the call from Danny, I was leaving the airport — my wife, Kayla, and I were coming back from having celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary. We’d gone to Miami for a couple of days — and now we were back in Seattle, driving home.
I missed the call, must have been doing something in the car. Danny left a text.
“IT, call me when you can.”
Sounds dramatic, but that’s actually a pretty normal text from Danny. Could’ve been about all sorts of things. So I called him back, still driving and not really thinking much of it. He knew I’d been on my trip, so he asked me a few questions about it. I’m sure I asked him how he was, maybe how the family was doing. Again, you know, just that normal sort of talk.
And then somewhere in there, it was just like … it was barely anything. This little pause in the conversation. And that’s when he told me.
“I just traded you.”
Simple as that. No big words, no big speech. Though I guess when it comes to shit like that, there’s not much more to say.
“To where.” That’s all I could manage.
“To the Cavaliers, for Kyrie.”
And that’s when, like — man. You ever been on the phone, and someone says something … and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, I don’t want to be on the phone anymore? Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment.
Danny started going on about everything I’ve done for the city of Boston, and for the Celtics organization, both on and off the court. About what a great player I am, and how I’m going to be great in Cleveland. You know, telling me that type of stuff. And it was just like … at that point in time? I definitely didn’t want to hear none of that.
So I was steady trying to cut him off a few times, and then eventually I did. It was basically, you know — I appreciate you reaching out, appreciate you telling me, but there’s really nothing else that you or I need to be saying right now.
And that was the gist of it.
That was the call.
Man … so much was going through my head in that moment. But I almost needed to block it out for the time being. My first instinct was to figure out what this would mean for my family. I thought about my two sons, James and Jaiden, and having to tell them that it was time to move. I knew it was going to come as a shock to them — first, with it being right before the start of the school year. And second, knowing how much Boston had started to feel like a home to them. To all of us.
The boys had been staying at my mom’s while Kayla and I were away, and so as soon as we got home from the airport, we FaceTimed them. I knew the news was bound to leak sooner or later, and I wanted to make sure that they heard it from me. And so I told them what had happened: Dad got traded.
James, my oldest — I guess he really is his father’s son, because he asked the same first question I did. “To where?”
“Cleveland. They traded me for Kyrie.” And I’m pretty sure you know what came next.
“LEBRON! LEBRON JAMES! Dad — Dad. You get to play with LeBron James!”
Jaiden, though, he’s my little guy, maybe a little more sensitive — and he loves Boston more than anyone. So I knew the news was potentially going to be more hurtful for him. And just looking at his reaction, when he heard, I could tell I was right. He seemed kind of heartbroken.
I said, “Jaiden, are you happy or are you sad?”
And he said, “Because Cleveland probably doesn’t have skate parks.”
He’s big on skating and stuff. So he was definitely upset with that. (Cleveland, if y’all got skate parks, @ me on Twitter.)
A few hours later, it was all over the news. All my social media was blowing up. I must have had a thousand messages, and seen a thousand reactions.
But the truth is — those first two reactions I got, from my sons? That was all I needed. All those takes, all the rumors, all the expert analysis going around … and, man, my sons got it more right in a couple of minutes over FaceTime. Everything about that trade, everything that I was feeling in my heart in those moments — they got it down to the only two things that mattered.
One, as my oldest said it: “LeBron James.” Or put another way — I get to come over and join the best team in the East, and try to win a championship alongside the best basketball player in the world.
And two, as my youngest said it: “Sad.” Or put another way — man, man, am I going to miss this city.
Man, am I going to miss being a Celtic.
But yeah, I’ll just say it: That shit hurt. It hurt a lot.
And I won’t lie — it still hurts.
It’s not that I don’t understand it. Of course I get it: This is a business. Danny is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade. But that’s not my job. That’s Danny’s. And it’s a tough job, and he’s been really good at it. But at the end of the day, these deals just come down to one thing: business. So it’s no hard feelings on that end. I’m a grown man, and I know what I got into when I joined this league — and so far it’s been more blessings than curses. I’m not sitting here, writing this, because I feel I was wronged. I wasn’t wronged. It was Boston’s right to trade me.
Plus, in a lot of ways, I actually think this was a good lesson. Not only for me, but for the league as a whole. And for the fans and the media, too, you know, just in terms of how they talk about guys changing teams. I was thinking about that last year with KD and his free agency — about how people gave him such a hard time for doing what he felt was best for him and his future. How they turned him into a villain, just for doing what was his right to do as a free agent in this league. Suddenly, it was, “Oh, he’s selfish,” or, “Oh, he’s a coward.” Suddenly, just for doing business on his end, and doing right by himself, he was portrayed as this bad guy.
But that’s what I think my trade can show people. I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for? That’s why people need to fix their perspective. It’s like, man — with a few exceptions, unless we’re free agents, 99 times out of 100, it’s the owners with the power. So when players are getting moved left and right, and having their lives changed without any say-so, and it’s no big deal … but then the handful of times it flips, and the player has control … then it’s some scandal? Just being honest, but — to me, that says a lot about where we are as a league, and even as a society. And it says a lot about how far we still have to go.
And like I said, there’s no hard feelings. But I just hope that the next time a player leaves in free agency, and anybody wants to jump on him or write a critical story or a nasty tweet about him, maybe now they’ll think twice. Maybe they’ll look around the league, look at a case like mine, and remember that loyalty — it’s just a word. And it’s a powerful word if you want it to be. But man … when it comes to business, it ain’t nothing to count on.
At the same time, though, people gotta understand. Like, even with all of this being said … man … it still hurt. It still hurt bad. And I hope people can understand that when I say it hurt, it isn’t directed at anyone. I’m not saying I was hurt by anyone, or wronged by anyone, or betrayed. I’m just saying, man, I’m only human. I may act like a tough guy on the court. And I may seem like I have ice in my veins when I’m competing. But it ain’t ice, really. I got blood and I got a heart like everyone else.
And so when I say this hurts, man — just know that it isn’t because of anything anyone else did. It’s only because of something I did.
I fell in love with Boston.
When the Celtics traded for me, I knew what it was. I knew the role I was being brought in to play — the same role I had played my entire NBA career. “Scoring guard, who can play some point.” “Instant offense off the bench.” “Sixth man.” This was already my third stop in four years, and that’s not a career path that happens to anyone’s franchise player, or point guard of the future. That just wasn’t how the league saw me. And I knew that.
And when I came over in the trade, I think Celtics fans knew what it was, too. They knew that I was being brought in as part of a deep rebuilding process, and that this wasn’t a time to be thinking playoffs or nothing. These were supposed to be some transitional years. You know: Pile up some assets. Find some cheap young talent. And yeah — probably lose a bunch.
Or at least that’s what everyone was telling us.
And I think that’s why I got along so well with the city of Boston, and why we connected with each other like we did. All my life, all I’d been doing was winning, and playing great basketball. But now, suddenly, as a pro, people were telling me that I had to be a bench player — and that the best I could hope for was to be the scorer on a rebuilding team. And it’s kind of similar for this era of Celtics: As long as the C’s had been around, all they’d done was win, and play great basketball. But now, suddenly, people were telling their fans that there was going to be a rebuild, and that they were going to be a lottery team for a while. And it’s almost like me and the city, my Celtics teams and these Celtics fans, we both shared the same heart, that same mentality. We both just wanted to win — now — and neither of us had any time for our critics. It was like, Man, fuck the lottery.
And I think it just sort of developed into this special thing, this special connection and moment. Everyone’s got their numbers and statistics all crunched — and all these experts, man, they think they have this entire league figured out. But they ain’t never figured me right. And they ain’t never figured the importance of having a winning culture — from the fans, to the players, to the coaches, to the front office, all the way up to the top. And we had that here. This was the first place, the first organization, the first group of fans in the league that didn’t take one look at me, take one look at my size, and put me into the same role as always. The Boston Celtics let me have a chance to be great. And I’ll never forget that.
And that’s why, you know — people ask me a lot about the playoffs last year. About how, even after my sister Chyna passed, I still went out there in Game 1 vs. Chicago and played. But what’s crazy is, the original reason I was going to play, was actually a little different from the reason I ended up playing. At first I thought I was going to play because, honestly, that’s just my mindset, when it comes to basketball. With basketball, I guess it’s just always been, like — no matter what I’d be going through in life … I’ve always known I can go to a basketball court. All I have to do is find one, and I’ll know I’m going to be fine for however long I’m on that court. Because that’s what basketball has always been for me, through my life’s ups and downs. It shields me from everything that I’m going through in life.
PHOTO BY MADDIE MEYER/GETTY IMAGES
And when I arrived at the arena that night, after Chyna had passed — I was thinking, O.K., I just need that to happen. I need this court to be my shield tonight, I need this court to help me forget. But when I got out there? Man, it’s one of those things … I can’t even describe it. The applause that I got, I can still hear it. People had these signs they made, and I can still see them: THIS IS FOR CHYNA. WE <3 ISAIAH. That sort of thing. Then they did a moment of silence, the whole arena, in Chyna’s honor. And it was like … man. I just realized, in that moment, that I didn’t need the court to shield me. I didn’t need to block it all out, and pretend I wasn’t grieving. I didn’t have to be alone in this. The whole arena was right there with me. Honestly, it felt like the whole city of Boston was with me.
And at that point, you know, I think it just kind of hit me, like — of course I’ve gotta play. First of all, I’m going to do it for Chyna, and for my family. But then I’m also going to do it for my city. ’Cause what they’re showing me right now, is all I needed tonight: to know I’m not alone. They’re showing me that they’re going through the same thing I’m going through right now. They’re showing me that I’m one of them, and that we’re in this together. So let’s be in this together.
And for two and a half years, man, we were.
I’mma just say this here, point-blank, to get it over with — and then you can go ahead and post it on whatever bulletin boards you want to: You are not going to want to mess with the Cavs this year. This is going to be a great year to be a Cavs fan, a great year. And I’m excited.
From a basketball perspective, me on the Cavs is a match made in heaven. If you’ve watched any Celtics games last year, then you know how many times I would have to go through double and even triple teams, just to get my shot off. It ended up working fine for us — guys played great, and my shot was falling. But this year … man, it’s not even going to be a thing. You really going to throw three guys on me, when I’m sharing a court with the best basketball player on the planet? Nah, I don’t think so.
PHOTO BY GREG M. COOPER/USA TODAY SPORTS
And that’s just LeBron. I look up and down this roster, and all I see is guys I can’t wait to play with: Kevin Love (reunited with my old AAU teammate!), Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert … it’s no accident to me that these guys have won the East three years running. And now add me to the mix, and D. Rose, and my guy Jae? This roster, man — it’s just stacked. Cavs fans, let’s get ready to rock and roll.
Of course, being on the team the East runs through now … I won’t lie, it’s some mixed emotions. Because that was our goal in Boston for so long — get through the Cavs, and win the East. And I know that’s still Boston’s goal. But now, it’s like, I’m the one who has to stop them from reaching it. And that’s tough. Because come playoff time, if and when we have to face the Celtics … I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. But that won’t just be “the team I used to be on.” That’s my old team. The elite offense, the 30-some national TV games, the becoming a place where free agents want to come and play — I feel like I helped build that. I helped create that.
And come playoffs, all of a sudden, it’ll be like, O.K., now destroy it.
It’s sad, man. It’s just sad.
But I didn’t come to Cleveland to lose.
Like I said, when the trade news broke, I got a lot of messages. They had my texts, IG, Twitter, voicemail, you name it, just blowing up. But there was one message in particular, out of all of them, that really stuck with me. It was from Tom Brady.
What’s up, IT, I heard about the news. You good?
I’m alright. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s a cold game.
Yes it is. Best of luck. You’re gonna do great. Keep in touch.
It wasn’t about what he said, exactly — though it was cool for him to say all that, no doubt. But it was more just everything it meant, I think, that stuck with me. To be getting a personal message like that from someone like Tom, who is such a Boston sports legend … I mean, it was bittersweet.
At first, honestly, it stung a little. I look at a career like Tom’s with the Patriots — and that’s exactly the kind of career that I had hoped to be building here with the Celtics: Being this low draft pick … coming in without acclaim … and then — through hard work, and determination, and some talent that maybe people had overlooked — just starting to win, and win, and win. And then establishing a legacy of winning. And then staying in Boston, winning titles and competing like hell, for the rest of my career — until I was considered one of the all-time Boston greats. That’s the career that I had started to map out for myself. In my mind, I wanted to be the Celtics version of Brady and Ortiz. I wanted this next era of Celtics basketball to go down in history — and I wanted to go down in Boston sports history with it. So when I got that text from Tom, you know, there was part of me that felt a little down.
But then I thought about the text some more … and I think I changed my perspective a little. I think I realized that, like, Yo — that’s Tom Fucking Brady. And I was only here for two and a half years. Tom Brady isn’t sending a text like that to guys who played in Boston for only two and a half years — unless they did something very special. So maybe, I don’t know … maybe that’s something to be proud of. And maybe, my time here … even if, in the end, I guess it wasn’t quite what I’d dreamed it would be — maybe it still meant something to some people.
So I guess that’s where my head’s at right now. I’m still hurting, and I’m still sad to go. And I’m sure I’ll be missing my Celtics family for quite some time. But I’m just going to go to Cleveland now, and do what I do. I’m going to play my guts out. It might not be the career that I dreamed of having last year, or even last month — but when you think about it, that’s kind of been my career from the start. It’s never been the dream come true, and it’s never been what you expect. It’s just been me.
And maybe that’s the answer to all of this, you know what I’m saying? Like, yeah, I’ll never be Tom Brady now. And I’ll never be David Ortiz. I’ll never be Bill Russell, or Paul Pierce, or Kevin Garnett, or Larry Bird. But whether I would have without this trade, or I wouldn’t have — I still like to imagine one thing.
I like to imagine that sometime not long from now, somewhere in Boston, someone is going to be a parent, talking basketball to their kid. And their kid is going to ask them, point-blank like kids do, you know, “Yo — why you become a Celtics fan?”
And that parent, man, they’re going to think back to themselves — really think on it. And then they’re going to smile, and tell the truth.
“I saw Isaiah Thomas play.”
That would make me very happy. For me, I think, that’d be enough.
ISAIAH THOMAS / CONTRIBUTOR