SEATTLE – Isaiah Thomas got a phone call Saturday morning before his big night. It was his old coach, former University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar.
“Look at you,’’ Romar told Thomas. “A kid from Tacoma. Who would have thought it?”
That little 5-foot-9 kid from Tacoma heard the roar from a near sellout crowd Saturday night at Alaska Airlines Arena when the Huskies retired his No. 2 jersey and raised the banner into the Hec Ed rafters.
“I can’t explain it,’’ Thomas said before the Colorado-UW game, which the Huskies easily won 82-59. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’ve dreamed of having my jersey retired, either in high school, college of the pros. For Washington to honor me like this is a true blessing.”
Thomas, now a Los Angeles Laker, has earned his place as one of the best in basketball, despite doubters at every step on the way.
He led the Huskies to three consecutive Pac-12 titles, along with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, averaging 16.4 points per game his in college career. The Huskies were 76-30 while Thomas was on campus before leaving after his junior year in 2011.
The Sacramento Kings made Thomas the 60th and final pick of 2011 NBA draft. Thomas had his best NBA season last year, averaging 29 points and six assists a game for the Boston Celtics. But he was traded the Cleveland before the start or this season and started the year with a hip injury before returning in January.
Thomas was shipped on the Lakers two weeks ago as the Cavs completely revamped for the future in hopes of keeping Lebron James.
As tough as all those changes have been, it’s all meaningless compared to losing his sister, Chyna, is a car accident last April.
“It’s been a tough year for me,’’ Thomas said. “I’ve taken a lot of haymakers, but I’ll take it on the chin and keep moving through.”
Thomas becomes only the third UW basketball player to have his number retired, joining Bob Houbregs and Brandon Roy.
“It’s a different feeling, kind of hard to explain,’’ Thomas said. “It’s great to be somewhere where you’re loved. I’m just all smiles. UW was the best three years of my life. I grew up my three years here, arriving as a kid at 18 and leaving as a man at 21.”
UW had to move the original date for retiring Thomas’ number after he was traded to the Lakers. They asked him if he wanted to wait until next season.
“I said hell no,’’ Thomas said. “I wanted to have this night. Nobody can ever take this away from me.”
It all worked out. Even Romar, now the assistant head coach at Arizona, was in the arena to see it. The little kid from Tacoma has reached immortality on Montlake.
“That’s everything to me,’’ Thomas said. “I want to inspire the next generation the way guys like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan inspired me. Being from Tacoma, I want the next kid there to look at me and think he can do it, too.”
Thomas had a couple of kids with him Saturday who probably think that, his sons, Jaiden and James.
As Thomas and his boys got up to leave the interview room, Jaiden had a message: “My dad is better than Lebron.”
Thomas laughed and said, “Oh my. Let’s hope no one heard that.”
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