- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Etan Thomas brings lots of hair to the arena, plus the conscientious spirit of a poet.

That is no dreadlock-like lap dog on top of his head. That is a genuine response to his previously shiny pate.

Thomas is all over the social landscape, up with Zeus, down with Zelig, not easily categorized.

He was born in Harlem but spent his formative years in Tulsa, Okla. He could be at home in either the Apollo Theater or on the range.

He can spin you a sonnet or smack you in the face, whichever you prefer.

Thomas has the political sensibilities of the far left but the rough-hewn basketball convictions of the far right. He is a touchy-feely artist with the unrefined manner of an action figure.

As he might put to verse, if it doesn’t hurt, you must be inert.

Thomas lives by the bruise and sometimes dies by the injury.

He knocks you down and considers it a service to the team.

He plays in a puddle of sweat and in the company of an elbow.

His forays to the basket come with orange cones and a blinking yellow light.

Ira Newble, not one to be cautious, directed both an elbow and a high-velocity pass to Thomas following a 3-pointer by Juan Dixon in the last game on Fun Street.

“If you’re going to be a man, be a man all the time, not just when someone retaliates,” Newble said later, feeling manly, if not philosophical.

That works as an ode to testosterone, to which Thomas can relate.

“No problem,” Thomas said, to the elbow, pass and technical foul assessed to both parties.

Except for the free-flowing hair, held in reluctant place by a head band, Thomas is not much on style.

He functions with all the subtlety of an 18-wheeler. He is coming at you, full speed ahead, with smoke billowing out of his ears, horns blaring and a strong urge to clear any obstacle in his path.

He is not a starter, but he is a finisher.

“He is the heart and soul of the team,” coach Eddie Jordan has said repeatedly, most recently after Thomas delivered an 18-point, 10-rebound gem against the Cavaliers.

By now, no first or last name is necessary with this postgame analysis.

“He’s our leader right now,” Jordan said, the role necessitated with a team nearly eligible to compete in the 18-and-under AAU tournament.

At 25, Thomas is almost one of the wise men of the team, although not up to the Old Testament standards of Christian Laettner, the team’s other follicular endowed member who appears ready to feed the masses with a basket of bread and fish.

Thomas has the temperament of a center but the body of a power forward. The distinction is not necessarily important in the center-deficient Eastern Conference.

Thomas was not a 98-pound weakling in his college years at Syracuse, but he hardly was the 6-foot-9, 256-pound block of granite that he is today. He did the calculations in his rookie season with the Mavericks and determined that a body carved out of stone could blunt the absence of a 15-foot jump shot. His next shot from that modest territory will be his first.

Thomas has no sense of fatigue and no room for pieties. When he checks into a game, the opposition’s trainer checks on his black bag to be ready for the first sign of blood.

The activity level of Thomas is the highest on the team, sometimes exceeding the combined activity level of Brendan Haywood and Kwame Brown, the Bermuda Triangle-like mystery of the franchise. The ball sometimes ends up in eerie places after it goes to the latter two.

It is not the shoes with Thomas. It is the hair and passion. Each grows by the season.

“We’ve kind of taken his personality,” Jordan said.

This is the fight of a team trying to stay relevant this season. So far, the fight, led by Thomas, has been encouraging.

Thomas has become the card that Jordan elects to hold back each game. The sixth man is one of the tricks of the coaching profession, the sixth man in this case being the team’s leading post player and poet.

Here’s to Thomas. The hair, too.

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