Isaiah Thomas was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington. He got his name after his dad, James, lost a bet with a friend on the 1989 NBA Finals. The two men had wagered that if the Pistons beat the Lakers, James would have to name his son after Detroit guard Isiah Thomas. The Pistons swept Los Angeles, and the rest is history — though Isaiah’s mother decided to change the spelling because she wanted her son to have a biblical name.
Isaiah grew up playing basketball in Tacoma. He started at the local community center, then went on to play at Curtis Senior High, where he averaged 31.2 points as a junior. He then transferred to the South Kent School, in Connecticut, where he turned his focus to academics while continuing to develop as a basketball player. After his senior season, Isaiah was considered a three-star recruit and received a scholarship to play college basketball at Washington.
In three seasons at UW, Isaiah was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, was twice named first-team all-conference and averaged 16.4 points. As a junior — when he was one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard — he hit the game-winning shot in the Pac-10 championship game against Arizona. He decided to forego his senior season and enter the 2011 NBA draft.
Isaiah was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the last pick in the draft. He was twice named NBA Rookie of the Month and earned second team NBA All-Rookie honors for the season. In his third and final year with the Kings, Isaiah averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists.
After the 2013–14 season, Isaiah became a restricted free agent and was acquired by the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade deal. He scored 23 points in each of his first two games with the Suns, and he was averaging 15.2 points per game before he was traded to the Boston Celtics midway through the season.
In his Celtics debut, Isaiah scored 21 points off the bench. In 21 games with Boston that year he averaged 19.0 points and 5.4 assists per game. His combined performance with the Suns and the Celtics led to his finishing second in the voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. (He received 33 first-place votes.)
During his three seasons in Boston, Isaiah captured the hearts of the city’s fans. He increased his scoring average every year, from 19.0, to 22.2 in 2015–16, to a career-high 28.9 in 2016–17. In a game against the Miami Heat on Dec. 30, 2016, he scored a career-high 52 points, 29 of which came in the fourth quarter, when he made six three-pointers. He broke the Celtics’ record of 24 points in a quarter, set by Larry Bird in 1983 and matched by Todd Day in 1995. That game — as well as his with his fourth-quarter heroics throughout the season — earned Isaiah the nickname, “King of the Fourth.”
Isaiah earned All-Star honors in both 2016 and 2017, and was named second-team All-NBA in 2017. He led the Celtics to the playoffs in each of his three seasons in Boston. They were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2016–17, and reached the Eastern Conference finals.
On August 30, 2017, Isaiah was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Jae Crowder, Ante Žižić and the Brooklyn Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick (to which the Celtics owned the rights) in exchange for Kyrie Irving. The Celtics later sent an additional 2020 second-round pick to Cleveland to complete their blockbuster swap of All-Star guards.
On February 8, 2018, the Cavaliers traded Isaiah, Channing Frye and a 2018 first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. In his debut for the Lakers, Isaiah scored 22 points off the bench. On March 1, 2018, he scored a season-high 29 points in a 131–113 win over the Miami Heat. Prior to the 2017-18 coming to an end, on March 29, 2018, he was ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery to his right hip.
On July 16, 2018, Isaiah signed a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets and seeks to redeem himself, stronger than ever. He will reunite with Michael Malone, who coached him with the Sacramento Kings.
When he’s not focusing on his basketball career and his pursuit of an NBA title, Isaiah lives in Tacoma, Washington, with his wife, Kayla, and his two sons, James and Jaiden.