"The King of The Fourth" they called him. "The best little man in the game" they hailed him.
Isaiah Thomas wasn't about the flashiness or the superstar lifestyle. The guy didn't impress right away, and certainly won't be the first name called to start a team with. But if there's one thing the 5'9" point guard brought to every team he's ever played on, it's life.
He gives that look when he scores a huge, 4th quarter 3. He gives his heart when his team is in need of some. He gives hustle and energy when his teammates have none left. To be simple and straight forward, Isaiah Thomas has never given less than 100% on the court, not even when the C's had him coming off the bench, and not even after the tragic death of his sister.
On the Celtics, he became their leader and voice. He spoke up in the locker room when a player was acting unwisely. He spoke to the media when they started asking questions. For that team, he was the leader they needed and the guy they looked to when they needed someone to talk to.
While the Celtics did earn the number 1 seed last year, they were crushed by the Cavaliers in a devastating Eastern Conference Finals matchup. They stood virtually no chance. Obviously, changes needed to be made. Those changes first started with their draft pick, which they traded down to draft Jayson Tatum at #3. It then trickled down to the Free Agent market, where the Celtics acquired Gordon Hayward from the Utah Jazz.
After those moves, the Celtics were definitely improved. They were definitely better off. But apparently, that was not enough.
When they made that big trade for Kyrie Irving, it marked a new season for the Celtics. For years, Danny Ainge had acquired draft picks and young talent, hoping to either build from the ground up or wait for a big get somewhere down the road. That "big get" was Kyrie, who was made available a month ago after rumors persisted of his unhappiness in Cleveland.
This new Boston era though, as great as it seems, will still have a missing piece. Without their heart, without their identity, what kind of team will these guys become? Who will they be?
Essentially, the Boston Celtics gave up on the most loyal guy they had. He may have had an unhealthy hip. He may have been too short to play effective defense. He may have been expensive to keep for the future. But was it worth it?
They gave up on the guy who never gave up on them. The Kings, the Suns, none of those squads revealed Thomas' true potential. But with the Celtics, he was so much more. He became not only the team's best player and leader, he became the city's persona.
It's too early to tell how well the Kyrie trade will fare. Only a delusional fan would claim that I.T. is better than Uncle Drew. But sometimes, it is not about who's better or more talented. Sometimes, it's about how well a guy fits with the team, with the city. Sometimes, it's about how much of himself a guy gives up for the city he loves.