FD Guest Lecture: Isiah Lord Thomas Seen on Vacation in Cancun
Jake is the man behind Bread City, and was last seen here delivering this memorable Guest Lecture.
ILT. On Ties
I keep a steady rotation of eight game ties, which are always different. When a new tie comes in, an old one goes out. At home games I tend to choose dark solid prints, which demonstrate an intimate familiarity with my surroundings. On the road, a tie is useful in creating a surprise first-impression and setting the tone before the opening tip. Take last November, for example, when I showed up in Denver wearing a white tie over a white shirt. Jamal scored 20 in the fourth quarter and we won by two.
When we travel, I always take all eight with me in a brown calf leather case so I’m not limited in my decision-making. The case was a present from John Salley on my 40th birthday. It was a surprise party thrown by my wife at the Westchester Country Club. She said we were just going for lunch, but I knew something was up on drive over, when she broke down laughing.
I never wear the same tie to a game more than twice. My ties are always neat and perfectly knotted, but they are often purposefully harsh, ugly, abrasive. You may think you know someone, a girlfriend, an uncle, a coach, but you don’t. From across the court, my secrets are safe. There is no looking past this thin strip of silk.
ILT. Takes a Train
ILT. arrives at Grand Central Station a full ten minutes before the train is scheduled to leave, so he has the car circle the block once and then has the driver pull into an empty spot on Vanderbilt, across the street from the Yale Club. The exhaust chugs away thick and white onto the sidewalk, where businessmen hurry to catch the last express lines of the day.
The lobby of the Yale Club is quiet, but through the windows on the second floor, ILT. can spy the scraps of a party. A cigarette held with long painted fingernails. Half of a brightly lit Christmas Tree. The clothing of the people without faces, blue and black and yellow, moves back and forth behind the frosted glass like bottles of beer. ILT. checks his watch. There are still six minutes before his train leaves. He is waiting for the last possible moment.
ILT. On Reporters
Basketball is basketball, but the reporters are sitting in the next room right now on cheap folding chairs, waiting. I will come in quickly and say hello to one or two of the local beat writers by name, stopping to shake their hands if they’ve written something complimentary that week, or sometimes if they haven’t. I move quickly to the podium, and begin.
This ritual is a cheap date that is easy to win. When I make a joke, the crowd laughs for as long as I smile. The ones who are the familiar faces have felt out of place here for too long, and don’t bother anymore to ask questions they don’t know the answers to already. Still, there are certain questions that shouldn’t be brought up, and sometimes they are. When that happens, I choose one reporter and look them straight in the eyes like a doctor giving bad news.
Tomorrow morning, the things that were said in this dingy stadium basement will be printed in the newspaper as secret sweet nothings, and tomorrow night we’ll do it all over again. We do not like one another, but that is what makes it easy, what makes it a game.
ILT. At Whole Foods
Sliced Organic Pineapple
Three Porterhouse Steaks
Roasted Garlic Hummus
A Whole-Grain Baguette
A Pound of Potato Salad
ILT. On Winning
For the leader of any team, there is an individual zone of concentration that carries over to his teammates, which can be stepped in and out of. The thing to remember is that you aren’t playing to win every possession; you’re playing to win the game. If you miss a shot or your opponent beats you, the only thing is to allow it to happen. Let the other team worry about possessions. There should be no difference in the mindset between one play and the other, or between offense and defense, only a steady push of concentration, like running the wrong way up an escalator.
ILT. Seen On Vacation in Cancun
Through the binoculars I can see that that it’s really him, standing on a sport fishing on a boat about fifteen yards away from ours. He is wearing a Tigers hat high on his forehead and holding the rod. It is too far away to hear what’s said. His friends are all hanging back on folding chairs, chomping on sandwiches. There’s also a man from the fishing boat charter. I can tell because the man looks just like ours does.
“It’s him,” I say.
Then without warning, the rod jerks ILT.’s body to the far side of the stern, and everyone on their boat leaps up out of their seats. We’re all watching, too. ILT.’s boat dips slightly towards the waterline, and his Tigers hat falls off into the sea.
ILT. is pressed up against the rail now, holding onto the rod with both hands, and yelling. His three friends and the fishing charter man grab onto him, and pull him back from the edge of the starboard quarter, and he manages to get his rod parallel to the water. For a little while he fights it, reeling in a little and letting it run out again. Reeling in and letting it out. Reeling…the line shivers and goes slack, and the hooked Marlin breaches the surface in a perfect arc.
This fish is huge, 12-feet long or more, and metallic. It hangs in the air for a moment and the world looks like a diorama, then it crashes onto ILT.’s deck. He’s thrown to the ground. The fish smacks its heavy blue tail against one of ILT.’s friends, and sends the guy flying into the back of the boat with a crunch that even we can hear. The others have ducked for cover into the cabin, but ILT. is left out in the open. He pulls himself upright, but cannot move. The fish flops wildly and jabs its razor sharp spear towards him, waving it back and forth like part of a giant sewing machine come unhinged. ILT.’s mouth opens. He has unfrozen, and he turns and steps to jump off of the boat. Then he stops. The sound of the gunshots must take a few seconds to reach us. The man from the fishing boat charter stands over the fish with a smoking 9 mm.
“Thank you,” ILT. says. I can read his lips. He smiles. Then I do not know what, because he puts his hands over his face.