I awoke from my birthday slumber, eager to attack a day I claimed for my own some 19 years ago.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and tried to force some sort of moisture into my dry morning mouth, visions of glorious birthday plans dancing through the sunrise grogginess (Okay, okay, it was like 10 am). I rolled over and flipped on my phone, as I always do first thing in the morning, and checked Twitter.
And there it was, as plain as can be, staring back at my (suddenly changing) giddy face.
Damn, they just don’t make birthdays like they used to.
My brain churned out a thought that I’m sure many of my fellow Sacramentans had float through their minds: Isaiah Thomas, my favorite player on my favorite team, is gone.
I might as well have seen this:
My driver’s license lists my height at 5’6″. The tape measure probably has it closer to 5’5″. If an attractive woman in heels asks, I might list myself at 5’7″, but that’s as far as I’m willing to push it.
So, as you can imagine, I have a soft spot for the little guys.
I remember the first time I saw Nate Robinson. Plastered across a glossy page of Sports Illustrated was a college junior who looked like a 10th grader, but threw down like some sort MANBEAST from a planet yet to be discovered.
The magazine told me he was five foot, nine inches tall.
His face told me he was having fun.
After three slam dunk championships in which my height-challenged hero beat out the rest of the entire league, I bought myself a Nate Robinson jersey. The green New York Knicks one. The one he wore when he beat the much taller Dwight Howard in 2009.
THE KRYPTONATE ONE.
He yelled and he laughed on the court, shot threes in bunches, and played to the perfect pitch of the crowd. He was the perfect little guy.
I always wished Nate Robinson would someday don a Kings uniform and play for my hometown team.
With the 60th and last pick in the 2011 draft, the Kings selected a diminutive guard with a Herculean heart.
Five foot, nine inches, From the University of Washington.
I finally had my Nate Robinson.
His name was Isaiah Thomas.
True, their game’s are not the same.
Nate doesn’t play with the consistency Isaiah does & Isaiah doesn’t soar above the rim like Nate does.
That never mattered to me.
I can wax on for hours about how undervalued IT was as a King and how he deserves every cent Phoenix gave him based on statistics, shot charts, and the like.
It also cannot be understated how he was a terrific member of the community, a valuable citizen, and a role model.
Additionally, as a little guy, Isaiah Thomas is the fulfillment of every unaccomplished NBA dream I’ve ever had. He is the little engine that could and for a little while, he played in my town, Sacramento, in many ways the little town that could. That’s about as good as it gets, personally.
I’ve always wanted to erase an opponent’s attempt in gravity-defying fashion (in a setting that doesn’t involve hooping with third graders).
Isaiah did it.
I’ve tried to make a three from my knees before.
He threw gorgeous passes, made crucial steals, and laid it all out on the floor every night for the people of Sacramento. Full of heart and drive.
What more can you ask for?
You certainly don’t expect a player to come to a city council meeting to fight for a city he’s not from and merely plays basketball in, visit a 98-year-old fan with flowers in hand, or show up to a Kings rally dripping in civic pride to celebrate triumph over the odds.
IT did it.
The Kings are a small market team with an astounding lack of continuity and recent success. Not exactly a recipe that would encourage anyone to give any of their players a commercial.
And yet, the Pizza guy did it.
He defied the odds every night in front of our eyes here in Sacramento. He went above and beyond, on and off the court. That’s what mattered to me, and to this place they call “the city of trees.”
Even in Space Jam, when the Monstars steal the talent, they grow to massive heights and tower over their competition (which doesn’t make total sense since they stole from Muggsy Bogues). The little guys just aren’t supposed to make it.
Mr. “COLD-BLOODED,” all of five feet, nine inches, did.
There are not too many guys, of any size, like Isaiah Thomas.
Perhaps that’s why it’s July 15th and I’m still sitting here tapping away at a keyboard trying to figure out how to handle the fact that there’s no more little guy in the capitol city.
Farewell “Hustin’ Husky,” Sacramento appreciates you.