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

Orange Juice
Sliced Organic Pineapple
Rotisserie Chicken
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.


At 10/29/2007 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to admit I have no idea what is going on here. Hopefully there will be a discussion that will clear things up, or probably just shroud everything in more FD obscurity. Fine by me either way, it's a cool little piece.

At 10/29/2007 11:57 AM, Blogger roland major said...

Man, I think Jake deserves a billupsesque FD fanclub. His fiction is a perfect occasional addition to this site.

At 10/29/2007 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"On winning" is amazing.

At 10/29/2007 12:15 PM, Blogger Err Bloc Tuck said...

That was fiction? That was the most non-fiction thing I've read on this site. (That was meant as a compliment to all involved.) Congratulations on a superb piece.

At 10/29/2007 1:23 PM, Blogger Spencer said...

That was brilliant all the way around.

At 10/29/2007 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved this piece. Please continue, as the season STARTS TOMORROW.


At 10/29/2007 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: An entry on keeping Doaln in his thrall would have made the post perfect.

There are reports that the Commissioner has signalled that he is going to suspend Thomas predicated on the harassment trial verdict, and is abiding only settlement on appeal.

The point at which an appeal of judgment would be poised for settlement , or not, could be as late as Feb. 2008 , however.

At 10/29/2007 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only ILT knew how hard you bit this style off of Donald Barthelme. Nice try.

At 10/29/2007 2:17 PM, Blogger BennettS said...

reminded me of patrick bateman
i knew isiah had a little american psycho in him

At 10/29/2007 2:34 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

anon 2:12, congratulations on leaving the most priceless comment ever. you got the reference but apparently have never heard of an homage.

At 10/29/2007 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

shoot, i thought he was going for j g ballard.

At 10/29/2007 3:14 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...


At 10/29/2007 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's cool. The homage aspect makes it a-ok in my book.

I dig his work IMMENSELY. He's top-notch. I've been wanting to get my hands on 'The Teachings of Don B.' for years, no less for the Pynchon intro. TP really can knock out a great intro.

Anyway, keep up the good work with FD. There's really nothing else like it out there - that I know of, anyway.

At 10/29/2007 4:20 PM, Blogger personalmathgenius said...

I can kinda see that being a Don B homage- Brecker in the Virgin Islands, maybe?
Maybe if he would have left out all the commas and threw in a couple of things right off the stock pages it would have been more recognizable as an homage. but then, DB's so big, it's kinda like saying all dunks are homages to one seminal dunker rather than just being an unavoidable consequence of the game once a certain level of athleticism is reached.

At 10/29/2007 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i feel like this is perfect way to approach the deep spiral of ego and circumstance that is isiah's path. i could care less if this homage or ripoff or whatever. the framework is beautiful when applied to ILT. well done. the endings to each section are brilliant.

At 10/29/2007 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sublime. I wish I could claim to understand the grocery list (he shops at whole foods!!!!!!) but all I can do is grin and wonder.

At 10/29/2007 9:26 PM, Blogger T. said...

Freedarko, come for the hoops. Stay for the literary discussion. Stick around for the deconstruction.

At 10/29/2007 9:47 PM, Blogger Five Pound Bag said...

I hope the Marlin doesn't represent Zach Randolph as a prize acquisition reeled in that turns out to be dangerous and gets shot in the head.

At 10/29/2007 11:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

off topic, yes...but has anyone fallen off the wagon, jumped the shark, quite like Simmons?

I realize its become trendy to rag on him, but motherfuckers column today was one big Red Sox handjob, as his output for the past three weeks has solely been. He COMPLETELY phoned in an NBA "preview," and gave us simply a 100 name fantasy list, with no regard for explanation.

its pretty sad. He was probably the best non-blog NBA writer (although he was one of the first sports bloggers, before it was called a blog). I'm not sure what happened to him, but it sucks. I started reading Simmons religiously way back (thats not a boast of cred, i don't give a shit if i was the 'first' or whatever, just sayin i feel like my sports fandom grew up with the guy) and it sucks to see him fall off like this.

I hope this never happens to FD. I'm sure it won't

At 10/29/2007 11:15 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Jake, that was beautiful.

Props to Shoals for putting you on again. Hope to see some more like this throughtout the season.

At 10/29/2007 11:55 PM, Blogger oliver said...

...I agree with the Simmons comment, and I love the f**king guy. I keep hopefully going to his site, and then it's Patriots, Patriots, Sox, blah blah... I mean, he can still be very funny; and I realize we all drop off eventually, but I'm not from Boston. I don't care about Boston. I will gladly read the occasional thing about Boston. ...But. But he's too busy or too famous or too something now. GIVE ME THE FUNNY, Simmons! And I don't mean to be an asshole by repeatedly mentioning this (and I won't leave the link), but I also get paid to write an internet column. But I make a special effort for my readership to not just write about my particular obsessions. If I did write about them, it would go like this: Star Wars, Sixers, retro TV shows, the collapse of post-modernism in a world of Myspace horrible reality television programs. But I don't do that. I make an effort to write about a variety of topics that hopefully a bunch of people will find interesting. And I know that Simmons is funnier than I am: in the paraphrased words of Ron Burgundy "He's better than me... He's BETTER THAN ME." But that doesn't mean that he doesn't have to try. ...You always have to try.

At 10/30/2007 1:02 AM, Blogger 800# said...

That was brilliant. This, combined with the Othella Harrington/Charles Oakley/MJ storyline in the season preview has totally made my week.

At 10/30/2007 4:39 AM, Blogger T. said...

If Scoop Jackson ever had his finger on the pulse, it's way off now. Pau Gasol is the Euro Tracy McGrady? Kenyon Martin is one of the 25 best dunkers of all time? The Suns are the Patriots of the NBA? Undrcrwn - mentioned on this very blog, what 2 years ago?

The power of the blog can kill the league?

I'm usually not very critical - hell, I continue to read Simmons, but this article is straight garbage. I'm not a Scoop hater either - I used to love his stuff in Slam, but no certified NBA writer would've come up with this stuff.

And Orlando's making the playoffs out of the Atlantic.

(sorry to off topic, but I figured here was as good as anyplace to discuss this)

At 10/30/2007 6:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whole foods actually makes sense because you know when zeke wants to keep his antioxidants game tight he doesn't fuck with that trader joe's shit. a man with a tie strategy like that is way too classy to shop somewhere that pimps 2 dollar wine.

and i agree with t. above me about orlando

At 4/13/2009 4:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




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