Pistons legend Isiah Thomas, two days after having his name unfairly ran through the mud in the “Dream Team” documentary, was dishing out something far more classy this morning: encouragement.
Thomas gave the commencement speech to the Cicely Tyson School of Performing & Fine Arts graduating class of 2012 on Friday. Tyson is an critically-acclaimed black actress who helped break down barriers for women in the film industry.
Thomas went back to his days as a youth on the west side of Chicago, when he had to travel 90 minutes every day to get to St. Joseph’s High School.
“Graduates today, it’s about you, but it’s more about the people who didn’t give up on you. My mom would wake me up every morning and say, ‘baby, it’s time to go to school.’ My mother didn’t give up on me, and my aunts and uncles didn’t give up on me even when I had given up on myself because I didn’t think I would make it.”
Thomas was frank and honest to the group, as 90 percent of them will attend colleges with a concentration on the arts. He seemed to pull from his own experiences, triumphs and disappointments to inspire the graduates.
“So I’m asking you, yes you’re graduating high school but can you do it again? If you’re knocked down can you get back up again? When you come from where we come from, it is set up for you to fail. You have to do what Ms. Tyson did and go outside of the structure.”
Thomas left Indiana University after his sophomore season to enter the NBA Draft, where he became the endearing symbol for the Detroit Pistons and their struggle to reach the top of the NBA. But he finished his studies in criminal justice, as his mother accepted his degree during the 1987 playoffs when the Pistons were playing the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.
It wasn’t long before Thomas drove the Pistons to back to back titles in 1989 and 90, before the infamous Dream Team snub. To this point, he’s taken the slights and revisionist history in stride, using it to encourage the group on Friday morning.
“I have a question for you: when are you going to start believing in yourself? If that day is today, then don’t be afraid to say what Muhammad Ali used to say: ‘I’m the greatest.’ You know why he’s the greatest? Because he said so.”