- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

Give Isiah Thomas this moment. He deserves it. His Knicks defeated the Larry Bird-run Pacers 97-90 Wednesday night. Thomas assured everyone the game wasn’t about the team presidents. Right. That’s all this was game was about.

Bird fired Thomas, the Indiana coach for the past three seasons, about five minutes after he was named president of the Pacers at a news conference with Thomas at his side.

This wasn’t their first news conference, nor the first time Bird enjoyed the upper hand. It would be wrong to say Isiah Lord Thomas III competes against Larry Bird with a chip on his shoulder, because he competes against everyone that way. Bird keeps winning, and Isiah keeps coming back for more, like the 180-pound street fighter from Chicago’s West Side that he is.

Thomas is about the only man in his family who didn’t turn out to be a drug addict, a pimp or dead. His mother is so tough they made a TV movie about her. Bob Knight? He was nothing next to Mary Thomas.

So Thomas went to Indiana and led the Hoosiers to a national title in 1981. That’s something Bird couldn’t do at Indiana State. Didn’t matter. Bird is a Hoosier icon. Thomas was the first player to leave Bob Knight’s program early. The Pistons drafted Thomas. Together, they became the Bad Boys.

“He’d cut your heart out to win,” Pat Riley once said. “And he would put it right there on the floor in front of you, and he’d step on it.”

In 1987, Game 7 vs. the Celtics, Bird stepped in front of Thomas’ pass. There’s a steal by Bird, underneath to DJ. … Celtics 117-114.

After the game, Dennis Rodman said Bird would be just “another good guy” if he were black. Thomas echoed this theory to take the heat off the team mascot.

Thomas apologized to Bird at a stunt of a news conference at the NBA Finals, where he watched his friend (Magic) take on his foe (Bird). This galled Thomas. It galled Bird even more.

Bird was galled again four seasons ago when he retired as Pacers coach and they hired Thomas, instead of his friend, Rick Carlisle. Thomas guided the young team to three playoff appearances and three first-round exits. But this was Indiana, and Thomas was no Bird, who put the Pacers in the NBA Finals.

Last summer, Bird came out of retirement to, in essence, fire Thomas and hire Carlisle.

So let Thomas have his moment, at least until the playoffs.

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