Isiah Thomas, Chicago's Lost Son

Isiah Thomas is reportedly in the hospital after overdosing on sleeping pills. Details are hazy at best -- most reports aren't 100 percent sure it was even Thomas that left the house; many refer to the subject as merely "a person" -- but at least one thing is clear: Someone overdosed on pills at Thomas's house. Most people think it was Isiah.

If it is indeed Isiah, anyone familiar with sports knows the story arc: Driven man succeeds in the NBA, graduates to its managerial ranks, and fails in the most spectacular and drawn-out of ways. First, announcing. Second, the CBA. Third, the Toronto Raptors, which are still -- still! -- recovering from Isiah's horrible mismanagement. And third, of course, the New York Knicks, the most high-profile of utter professional disasters, where Thomas somehow managed to wear out his welcome three or four years before he was eventually, mercifully, fired.

Before all this, of course -- before the NCAA title at Bob Knight's Indiana program -- Thomas was a native of Chicago, born and bred. His early years are probably the least well-known part of his story, and his smiley veneer has always hid them well. But Thomas is a product of a deeply sad and poor family, the youngest child of nine. According to Thomas' biography, his father -- frustrated after losing his supervisor's job to a less qualified white man -- left home when Isiah was six.

As his basketball talent matured, Isiah was recruited from his poor neighborhood to play at St. Joseph's in Westchester, a mostly white middle-class suburb. One can imagine the cynicism this early in life, can imagine being presented with such an opportunity merely because of one's basketball talent, glancing awkwardly at the numerous grade school classmates who would never be given the same chance.

Anyway, Thomas excelled at St. Joseph's, caught Bob Knight's eye, and the rest is history. But it is those first years that, as it is with all of us, formed him perhaps more than he even knows. Isiah Thomas is a resounding professional failure, but he is not uncomplicated. If that wasn't clear before, it certainly is now.

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