We have more access than ever before.
Seemingly everyone who’s not in elementary school has a smartphone, within it the ability to focus outwardly and view words, photos, videos and even streams of the lives of other people.
More of our lives is exchanged every day, every minute, every second. Everything can be shared.
In sports, this means the fan can now look beyond the game. Access is at the fingertips of the fans and the gatekeeping is in the players’ hands.
In “Book of Isaiah,” Boston Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas and filmmaker TJ Regan serve up unprecedented access to the biggest offseason of IT’s career. The documentary series captures the Boston Celtics’ 5’9″ point guard a year from free agency. The NBA’s salary cap is at its highest in league history in large part due to its media deal (9 years for $24 billion with ESPN & Turner), a monstrosity that shows the monetary value of capturing the world’s greatest ballers.
“Book of Isaiah” is access to both the mind and the body, and the constant search for improvement in both that athletes long for. Regan’s artistry is in capturing and piecing together the images, sounds and feelings that unveil Isaiah’s all-encompassing appetite for development.
We hear Thomas verbalize the pain of losing in the playoffs as we see him firing up jumpers in preparation for opening night. A scene of a workout, with beads of sweat, grimaces and grunts lays on a soundtrack of Nipsey Hussle, IT’s favorite rapper. For just a minute, as we see him push his body to its limits, we find where his mind is at as well.
“Knowing that this game to be played
But I’m knowin’ that this game to be changed
I should be afraid of afraid
I’m just tryna live up to the meanin’ of my name,” Nipsey spits.
The most direct example of the offseason grind is footage of Thomas’ track workout, an exhausting ordeal that pushes him to his physical end and inspires commentary throughout. His mentee, Central Washington guard Dom Williams, gives his own special insight: vomiting after a series of sled pushes, weighted sprints, and agility exercises.
This is full access to a career in which your value is constantly assessed, improvement is critical, and there are no defined business hours.
Layered inside the framework of “grind time” are the out-of-practice-gym scenes that add texture to Thomas’ story.
There’s Thomas breathing basketball back into Seattle through his Memorial Day Zeke-End tournament, attempting to explain the concept of pregnancy to his four-year-old son Jaiden and giving backpacks and wisdom to Boston youth.
He chops it up with legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather, childhood idol Allen Iverson and buries Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett in a shooting contest at a Seattle team meeting.
Watching Thomas process his meeting with Iverson is, in my opinion, the best footage of the series.
Thomas, a man once picked dead last in the NBA draft, is inspiring throughout. The script flips for a couple of minutes when he gets some time with Iverson, the greatest “lil killer” to ever do it and one of his inspirations. Isaiah prepares nervously to ask “The Answer” for an autograph, smiles the entire time he’s in Iverson’s presence, and giddily Instagrams his signed jersey in the hotel room afterwards.
Still glowing in the meeting’s aftermath, he rattles off AI’s career stats and says “I got to be Allen Iverson, bro.” As he paces and shadowboxes in the mirror, he exclaims “I’ve got to get better. It’s not cool, I gotta get better. I gotta get better cuz!”
Fans desire that look behind the curtain, that private peek, that transgression of transparency more than ever. This is it. And this is rare.
Sports media is increasingly divisive and uncomfortable. Players and coaches are painted as good guys or bad guys and #EmbraceTheDebate is the tagline of one of ESPN’s biggest shows. Some analysts exist as professional criticizers, vultures who linger above failed athletes, waiting to feast on any sort of failure they can find. Guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tiger Woods and Carmelo Anthony are picked apart when their deeds can be conveniently skewered or praised relentlessly on another day when the tide of the angry sports fan turns.
On social media, an athlete’s Twitter mentions or Instagram comments can be filled with crude comments about their significant others, random expressions of hate based on team, performance or nationality and also praise from around the world.
The brightness of the spotlight is not always flattering, and most athletes aren’t really incentivized to give fans the access we consistently try to grab. The push and pull of privacy and public must be regularly balanced.
That’s what makes “Book of Isaiah” so cool. This is fearless access to the work, the sweat, the hustle. It’s as complete and multi-faceted as you’ll find anywhere on any athlete. It doesn’t seek one narrative of Thomas or lend itself to thoughtless clickbait “let’s argue!” coverage. You won’t see any polls about “Book of Isaiah” or hear a radio host taking “hot-take” calls on this.
Much like Thomas, this series goes up against the taller titans of sports media and through variety, skill and unabashed effort, succeeds.
In a climate that gives fans just a couple sentences here, a page and a half there, a cover here, a series of pictures there, this is the “Book of Isaiah.”
Let no page go unturned.
Oh and that work… it’s paying off: Thomas is averaging 28.2 points per game and 6.2 assists per game. Iverson, as a reverential Thomas noted, averaged 28 for his career. He leads the entire league in 4th quarter scoring and has a knack for coming through in the final seconds to deliver the win. He also leads the Eastern conference in points per game. Thomas is in serious contention for a starting spot in New Orleans’ NBA All-Star game in February.
Look at these ridiculous shots.