Isaiah Thomas’ Documentary Series “Book of Isaiah” Scores From All Angles

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.

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Saying Goodbye to Tyreke Evans

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If you visit the Sacramento Kings “Youtube” channel, as most Kings fans of my age frequently do, you will notice the different playlists. These playlists (collections of videos) are categorized into themes or titles including “Top Plays”, “Sacramento Kings Dancer Profiles”, “Features”, and “Game Highlights”.

One playlist is called “Popular Uploads”. This section is a collection of what Kings fans have viewed the most on Youtube.

And Tyreke Evans, the newest New Orleans Pelican, dominates this playlist. Reke is prominently featured in 7 of the top 12 videos.

This is why I believe that many Kings fans had such a visceral and harsh reaction to yesterday’s news. Since the Kings drafted him 4th overall in 2009 (an unpopular pick at the time), Tyreke has been the face of this franchise. It is definitely not something the soft spoken 23 year old chose, but a spotlight warranted by a high draft position, a lack of talent around him, and the remarkable “20-5-5” rookie season. While watching Tyreke acrobatically layup to these legendary averages was undoubtably one of the better experience I’ve had watching recent Kings basketball, the season hurt Reke’s career by raising everyone’s expectations. As we heard our prematurely appointed franchise savior’s name mentioned with some of the greatest to every play the game, I think we all forgot that this was a 20 year old kid. That he didn’t have an outside shot yet. That he shot only 75% from the free throw line that year. Being named MVP of the Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend didn’t exactly dim the bright lights. Nor did winning Rookie of the Year, while no doubt a great accomplishment. The multiple coaching changes, poor leadership in the front office, and crumbling ownership created an environment far less than ideal for breeding a superstar. The fact is, we put too much on Tyreke too early.

Personally, I feel like I’ve watched Tyreke for a very long time. I feel like I know his tendencies. I am prepared for the spin move in the paint that leads to a fancy flip off the glass. I don’t even groan anymore when his midrange jumper barely finds room. I feel like I’ve seen him drive bullheaded into the paint a million times, like I’ve seen it all.

The fact is, he’s been a King for 4 years. He’s played in only 257 games. There is still a lot of basketball out there for Tyreke Evans. He’s just getting started.

Realistically, we shouldn’t feel the connection to Evans that we do. His assists per game and points per game have decreased every year he’s been in the NBA. His free throw shooting has not improved. He’s 28% from three point range for his career and his rebounds per game have descended as well. In terms of Win Shares, a metric that measures the average number of wins a player produces for his team, Tyreke’s totals stack up next to second rate players such as Jodie Meeks, Rudy Fernandez, Luke Ridnour, and Rodney Stuckey. From a statistical standpoint, Tyreke Evans is a basic starting guard in the NBA. He’s not a terrible player by any means but he cannot be counted on as the leader of a legitimate playoff team. If New Orleans wants to pull themselves from the depths and fly to the top of the Eastern Conference, Tyreke Evans cannot be their alpha Pelican.

So why then do we love Tyreke Evans so much? Why did the news of his departure carry so much weight? The Kings chose to not overpay him. They decided instead, correctly in my opinion, to acquire as much talent as possible for him (a starting point guard in Greivis Vasquez), and create more room for Ben McLemore to grow and prosper.

Because Tyreke Evans is a highlight man. He is responsible for arguably the best Kings moment of the last 8 years, destroyed Gary Neal on a fast break dunk, turns layups in graceful moments of artistry, and plays the game with passion and emotion (and not the same kind of emotion that Demarcus Cousins plays with… because then I wouldn’t be writing this). As I mentioned earlier, Tyreke suited up 257 times for the Kings over four years. You know who else played in over 250 games for the Kings in his first four seasons? Francisco Garcia. Do you remember anything from his “reign” as a King? Of course not. But Tyreke will live on. Because Tyreke brings the highlights. I have watched his 64 foot buzzer beater against Memphis countless times. His joyful jump onto the scorer’s table, Donte Greene’s early celebration, and Pooh Jeter excited scurrying and gleeful leaps onto teammates’ shoulders will forever be etched in my mind. I’ll never forget when Reke and former King Omri Casspi took over the 2010 Rookie Challenge with a Showtimesque fast break. Reke is, and will forever be, a talented player who produces “oohs” and “ahhs”.

So do yourselves a favor. Go watch Tyreke do his thing: http://www.youtube.com/user/kingsflix/videos?sort=p&tag_id=&shelf_index=4&view=0. Enjoy the high flying hoops and ankle breaking crossovers.

Then click this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ_uownv2Ng

And watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_T0c_lfJqg

And get excited for what this trade has officially brought us:

THE NEW ERA OF SACRAMENTO KINGS BASKETBALL

Ben Wong

benjaminwong3@gmail.com

Kingsscoop.com

@benwong3

Life of Kawhi: One Missed Free Throw and Kawhi Leonard’s Terrific Finals is Forever Out to Sea

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It will be lost forever in the swirling tsunami of terrific basketball that was the 2013 NBA Finals.

Gone.

Here we are, hours after the Miami Heat hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads, minutes after LeBron and Wade showered themselves with champagne and pizza on stage with Drake, and as with each passing second more clips of Shane Battier knocking down triples make their way across all 3 of the ESPN’s, and I haven’t heard his name mentioned once.

Kawhi Leonard.

We’ll remember the series LeBron James had. We’ll remember the series Dwyane Wade had. We’ll even remember how Tim Duncan and Tony Parker performed, and all the outlets are pouncing on Manu Ginobili’s inconsistencies. Years later, when some guy goes off for a bajillion threes, Danny Green’s historic 2013 Finals will come up.

Kawhi Leonard, all of 21 years old, in only his second season in the NBA, had himself one hell of an NBA finals.

But when we talk about Kawhi Leonard’s 2013 NBA Finals, we won’t talk about the positives.

Kawhi Leonard averaged a double double in his first finals, 14.6 PPG and 11.1 RPG to be exact. He managed to have a huge impact on the offensive end despite hounding LeBron James for seven games. Leonard’s season averages are around 11 and 6, and while 7 games is a small sample size, the numbers show that he elevated his game in the finals. He dunked all over Mike Miller. He had 4 steals in game 3 and 2 blocks in game 4. He was a rebounding machine, collecting 14 in game 2. He was the best Spur in game 7 (19 points and 16 rebounds) and scored 16+ in three games this series. May I remind you that Leonard is primarily a defensive specialist? He only averaged 14.1 PPG at SDSU, playing against legendary defensive stalwarts such as Point Loma Nazarene, Occidental, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Not exactly the Georgetown press or the ’96 Kentucky Wildcats

The point is, Kawhi Leonard turned in a complete performance for San Antonio. A performance that should not only be recognized, but celebrated by Spurs fans as the light at the end of the tunnel for this model of early aught greatness grows brighter.

But whenever his name is mentioned alongside the 2013 NBA Finals, he will be remembered for what he didn’t do. For the free throw he didn’t make. For the championship that he (along with some help from Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan) let slip from his grasp.

The scrolling Sportscenter topic graphic basically looks like this:

LEBRON IS GREAT

AARON HERNANDEZ MIGHT HAVE KILLED SOMEONE

DWYANE IS RESURRECTED, LONG LIVE DWYANE’S ATHLETICISM

DUNCAN MISSED A LAYUP, AND THEN THE TIP!

It seems we are obsessed with the “very good” and “very bad”. In the 2013 NBA Finals, Kawhi Leonard was “good”. Not “bad”. Not merely “okay”. “Good”. “Good” isn’t easy. “Good” doesn’t just happen. “Good” is a result of talent, hard work, and dedication. “Good”, in this case, is greatness with blemish. And while greatness undoubtedly deserves it’s time in the spotlight, I think it’s time we give some ink and some screen time to “good”.

Because for San Antonio, good is only 21 years old. Good will have plenty of opportunities to find the port of greatness. Unfortunately for us, only time will tell if Kawhi Leonard can become something more than this…

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