Expectations for Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas’ performance in this week’s playoff series against the Chicago Bulls were high — the NBA star was expected to lead his team in an attempt to advance closer to the NBA Finals.
Though the Celtics lost the first two games of their series, Thomas met those expectations. This week, Thomas performed as well as he ever has in the most devastating of circumstances.
At the end of Celtics practice Saturday afternoon in anticipation of Sunday’s series opener, Thomas was informed that his 22-year-old sister, Chyna Thomas, had passed away earlier that morning in a car crash.
With just 24 short hours to process the heartbreaking news, Thomas suited up on Sunday evening, eyes glazed over with tears and took the court.
Thomas scored 33 points in Game 1 of the series and led his team in scoring while adding five rebounds and six assists. With a roaring crowd and an entire team behind him, Thomas did a job no one expected him to do. A day after the shocking passing of his sister, no one would have questioned Thomas for taking the game off.
But he did not.
And on Tuesday evening, he came out firing again scoring 20 points, another team high.
Even the rest of the members of the Celtics attributed their overall opening losses in part to the difficult atmosphere surrounding their locker room, but Thomas performed incredibly well despite his own grief.
Thomas will not miss a minute of basketball. He returned home to his family in Seattle on Wednesday, but will return to the court in the third game of this series Friday.
Teammates, coaches and other members of the NBA community have all commented on his incredible display of character this past week. Bulls’ forward Jimmy Butler, for example, commented specifically on the type of “player and man” Thomas is that Butler believes the nation is seeing in Thomas’ ability to play exceptionally well despite his tragic situation.
But does playing in these circumstances make Isaiah Thomas any more of a man than he would be if he had stayed off the court this week?
There is no doubt Thomas is doing an incredible thing. Nothing but respect can be attributed to the way he channels his grief into the sport he loves in order to contribute to a possible Celtics championship.
Thomas has chosen to include basketball in his grieving process — a familiar method of dealing with tragedy for not only athletes, but any person with a passion. On Sunday night, he brought his sister’s memory onto the court by not only penning
her memory onto his shoes, but also making baskets with tears in his eyes.
But here is the tricky thing about sports: Sometimes, life is bigger. When tragedy strikes, sports can provide a safe haven, an escape and a solace. But they can also contribute to stress, fail to assuage pain and generate poor performances due to lack of focus.
Like any job, sometimes life gets in the way of sports. Isaiah Thomas has not allowed his grief to adversely affect his performance — but that does not mean that playing a game in the face of earth-shattering events will always be the right answer.
It is a personal choice whether playing in these tragic circumstances is an obligation, an escape or a burden. The circumstances are unique to each athlete and each human being.
But if this week has shown us anything, it is that there exists one consistency in sports that will always help in these trying times. There is always one reason a game can help when life becomes too big to leave off the court.
That reason is community.
The Celtics organization, the city of Boston, the NBA and the greater sports community — including media outlets — have all rallied around Thomas in this time of indescribable tragedy.
If nothing else, maybe that extra support system is what sports can offer to any person in the face of life’s most difficult moments; a team, a community and even a family.
Isaiah Thomas has proven to be incredibly strong this week, even if he did not have to be. Regardless of the role the orange ball and net played in that strength, the community surrounding the sport gave their hearts to Thomas in his time of need.
And is that not what a team is all about?
Amanda Christovich is a sophomore in the College. THE ANALYST appears every Friday.