Isiah Thomas: Legendary Sports Icon, Businessman, Philanthropist
Born and raised on Chicago’s West Side, Isiah Lord Thomas III’s professional career spans more than three decades in business and sports. Thomas has garnered worldwide attention for his contributions in all levels of professional basketball, including induction into the NBA Hall of Fame, and for his successful business initiatives and philanthropic endeavors.
As a player, Thomas built a reputation as a tireless worker and formidable competitor. The competitor-turned coach and manager was noted for his keen eye for discovering new talent. Thomas’ leadership and fighting spirit helped guide the last-place Detroit Pistons to back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990. While a Detroit Piston, Thomas was a player representative for the National Basketball Players Association and went on to serve as Vice President. In 1988, the NBA players elected Thomas to serve as President of the NBPA, where he served through 1994. During his NBPA tenure from 1983-1994, he helped establish four historic Collective Bargaining Agreements and pushed to raise the average NBA player’s salary, which increased from $300,000 to $1.8 million. He also used his keen knowledge of marketing to help build the expansion of professional basketball into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Thomas’ leadership and sharp business sense continue to serve him well in his post-playing days. Following his retirement from the NBA, Thomas took a front office position as part owner and Executive Vice President of the Toronto Raptors expansion team. He also served as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, President, General Manager and Coach of the New York Knicks and was owner of the Continental Basketball Association.
Thomas began his business career mid-way through his tenure in the NBA. He read up on business and related issues during his free time, met with contacts and eventually invested in a series of ventures, including a large chain of printing franchises, American Speedy Printing. As his business mentor and partner Rick Inatome explained, “He’s the definitive study of picture it and it becomes” – a motto that Thomas continues to bring to all of his business ventures.
As Chairman and CEO of Isiah International, Thomas successfully applies that spirit to the business world, having built companies that specialize in waste removal & recycling, multi-family housing, and the sports industries. Thomas is also the sole owner of four companies: Isiah International Holdings, an investment holdings company, GRE3N Waste Removal, Isiah International Real Estate, a multi-housing development firm, and Isiah Capital, a private equity investment firm. Thomas also co-owns the waste removal’s sister company, RE3 Recycling, with his daughter, Lauren.
Thomas’ most recent venture is in real estate development with TAND Properties, which revitalizes buildings and develops affordable housing. His other business investments include Popcorn Indiana, Pasha’s Restaurant in Miami, Southern Hospitality BBQ, and Sweetgreen.
Thomas combined commitment, intelligence, and his athletic gifts to become an NBA All-Star and Champion. Off the court, he dedicates a large portion of his time to working with youth programs in urban communities, helping to instill confidence, teamwork and leadership skills in young people. Inspired by his mother’s work to improve the lives of disadvantaged women and families in Chicago, Thomas founded Mary’s Court in her honor to support the health, safety, academic and personal achievement of Chicago’s youth and youth around the country. Thomas’ service to educational, anti-crime and anti-poverty programs began in Detroit when he was in the NBA and continues today in many more cities across the United States.
Thomas gained national recognition for his role in Chicago’s Peace Tournaments and his advocacy to prevent youth violence. With Father Michael Pfleger, Thomas launched the Peace Tournaments to reduce gang violence through communication and athletics. In early 2013, Thomas in partnership with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel started a fundraising campaign to launch the Windy City Hoops program in ten park districts, offering a safe haven to kids and families through sports. He has also awarded more than 100 scholarships to criminal justice students through The Isiah Thomas Scholarship at Indiana University and has recently announced a new annual scholarship at the University of California at Berkley in the African American Studies department. Thomas credits his mother with instilling in him the importance of education. He finished his college degree at Indiana University during the Pistons’ off-seasons and received his Master’s in Education from University of California at Berkeley in 2013.
Isiah Lord Thomas III was born in Chicago, Illinois as the youngest of nine children raised by his mother, Mary Thomas. His mother’s courage and conviction continues to inspire his philanthropic work. Thomas has two children, and he currently lives in New York with his wife of 28 years and college sweetheart, Lynn Kendall.
Thomas currently serves as an analyst for NBATV and is a regular contributor to NBA.com and Huffington Post.