WASHINGTON -- As you watch Isaiah Thomas, it is easy to wonder if we're observing the very early signs of a triumphant comeback story.
Once an All-NBA sensation, Thomas hit a modest personal milestone on Monday night in the Wizards' 115-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. He cracked the starting lineup for the first time with the Wizards.
It was his first start since March 14, 2018, and just his 16th start since his memorable 2016-17 season with the Boston Celtics, the last year he was an NBA star before a hip injury buckled his career.
Simply starting a game was not a surprise to him or anyone who has watched his first few games this season. Given his track record and recent progress, it seemed like only a matter of time before he overtook the starting job from Ish Smith, who is used to playing a back-up role at this point in his career.
But in the big picture, it was meaningful for Thomas and enough for him to get introspective about what it took to get here.
"It’s been a long road for me the last couple years. I just really put in the work to finally get healthy and to be able to start," he said. "I'm never going to quit. No matter what, I've been through real-life situations that are bigger than basketball."
Thomas, 30, had right hip surgery in 2018 after a year of playing through a torn labrum. Before signing with the Wizards in the summer, he appeared in only 44 games the previous two years and split time between three teams. Last season, he only played in 12 games with the Denver Nuggets and averaged 15.1 minutes.
It was a sharp fall after he had put together consecutive All-Star seasons in Boston. But he also went through plenty off the court, as he referred to as "real-life situations." His sister, Chyna, passed away in a car accident and his friend, rapper Nipsey Hussle, was murdered.
All in a span of two years, Thomas has had to fight to save his career while dealing with multiple tragedies. He credits his family for getting him through it.
"It was tough but my kids, to be honest, they kept me going. They know who I really am so they know what I've been through," he said. "I looked my kids in their eyes and that's probably what kept me going."
What Thomas has already done in the NBA, at his size, is remarkable. He's only 5-foot-9, currently the smallest player in the league.
Thomas has made a life out of defying the odds and it is clear that confidence is a big reason why. He still has big goals for himself in the NBA, ones that make starting one game for a 2-4 team in November seem insignificant.
"I know who I am. I know I’m one of the best basketball players in the world," he said. "I know I want to be one of the best players that have ever played and I know I have a lot left in the tank. I'm only 30 years old."
So far with the Wizards, he has indeed proven he still has something left to show the basketball world. Now with four games under his belt, he's averaging a solid 14.5 points and seven assists per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. The percentages are basically his career averages of 43.7 percent overall and 36 percent from long range.
If Thomas is ever to get back to playing at an All-Star level, he still has a long way to go to get there. But Monday night was one step along the way worth highlighting.
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