READING, Mass. – As Isaiah Thomas stood before a media scrum in the middle of his first basketball camp in New England, it was hard not to notice the Citi corporate backdrop behind his 5-foot-9 frame. And as you walk around gym at Reading Memorial High school, another sign with Body Armor SuperDrink, Hard Rock Café, Wilson and Welch’s Fruit Snacks among other sponsors, adorn a nearby wall.
Thomas’ rags to riches story is impressive when you stick to what he has accomplished on the basketball court.
But when you factor in the growing number of sponsors that have jumped on the Thomas bandwagon since he arrived in Boston, it’s clear his reach extends far beyond being just another player in the NBA.
Thomas will be the first to acknowledge that the perception of Boston and the reality that he has experienced in increasing his brand and overall awareness, are not one and the same.
“Ever since I’ve been here, people here have shown me nothing but love,” Thomas told CSNNE.com recently. “I know I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in, and I’m thankful that Danny [Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations] went and got me. Coming here has really been the best thing to happen for me, both as a player and as a person.
Thomas added, “Being a Celtic is something special; something that I don’t take for granted.”
The evolution of Thomas from the last player selected in the 2011 NBA draft, to being a sought-after player for the most storied franchise in NBA history, is the kind of Hollywood script that would become the lining to some hot shot producer’s trash can because it’s just not believable.
And yet it is indeed the story of Isaiah Thomas’ life, one that has made him a player whose magnetic smile, upbeat demeanor and talent have elevated him to a level few would have envisioned.
For Thomas, he sees the increased interest he has generated being about one thing: winning.
Prior to his first game with the Celtics, they were 20-22.
Thomas’ arrival in the middle of the 2014-15 concluded with Boston getting to the playoffs by winning 20 of its final 30 regular-season, which was a win total that was the third-highest in the league in that span of time.
And last season, Thomas’ first full season in Boston, the Celtics (48-34) finished in a four-way tie for the third-best best record in the Eastern Conference.
“Everything has gone up since I became a Celtic, and that goes with winning,” Thomas told CSNNE.com. “When you win and you’re seen a lot more, things start to happen for you. That says a lot about this organization and where I stand.”
Thomas’ standing as both a favorite of fans and corporate America isn’t all that surprising to Celtics officials.
“What makes Boston different than a lot of markets is how fans embrace the players and not just from a talent perspective, but from their personalities and the intangibles that they bring,” Rich Gotham, president of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That’s what endears players to the Boston market and why fans follow them so closely. It affords them opportunities. A guy like Isaiah Thomas is a great example; we knew fans would love the guy. We knew what a competitor he was. We knew with him being a smaller guy, he was going to be the underdog-personality that fans like.”
Added Thomas: “People liked me a little bit when I played for those other teams and back home as well. But ever since I got on the Celtics, it skyrocketed. Everywhere I go people notice me and that says a lot because I blend in with everybody; I’m short just like everybody.”
While Thomas is admittedly short in stature, he continues to grow into a giant pitch man ranging from the shoe contract he signed with Nike last fall, to Citi, Good Humor Ice cream and Slim Jim beef jerky, just to name a few.
“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said of the uptick in endorsement opportunities. “I dreamed of things like this; for people to come for me for things like this … it’s a surreal moment.”
Thomas adds [seemingly on cue], “I’m excited for Citi … and everybody who is trying to partner with me.”