Isiah Thomas says his brother and Bob Knight nearly got into fight over KKK comment

Detroit Free Press

Isiah Thomas, the former NBA and Indiana University star point guard, recently was a guest on The Pivot Podcast and spoke about a number of basketball greats, including Bobby Knight and Larry Bird.

Thomas, who played two seasons for Knight at IU, told a number of stories for over an hour, including one about a fight that nearly took place on a recruiting trip between the coach and Thomas’ brother.

“My brother asked Coach Knight, he said, ‘Going down to Indiana, you have a lot of the (Ku Klux) Klan in Indiana. If something jump off … who’s going to take care of (Isiah)?’ I thought this was a great answer by Coach Knight but my brother didn’t like it. Coach Knight leaned back and he said, ‘Well, if we’re winning, they’re going to look out for him.'”

Thomas’ brother apparently did not like that answer, which led to Knight suggesting the two men take the argument outside.

“Coach Knight stood up, took off his coat, started rolling up his sleeves and the whole house was like, ‘No, no no! We can’t fight!'” Thomas said. “Then everybody is heated, really heated. You look over there again and my mom is sitting there. I was like, ‘She likes (Knight).'”

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While Thomas was not convinced to play for Knight during the recruiting trip, Thomas’ mother made the decision for her son to play at IU.

“Coach Knight came and when he came he said, ‘I’m going to offer your son three things,'” Thomas quoted his mother saying. “‘A, he’s going to be a gentleman. B, he’s going to graduate from college. And C, I’m going to teach him everything about the game of basketball that I know.'”

The former Pistons’ point guard admitted to being kicked out of practice and arguing with Knight, but noted he was “so happy and glad that Coach Knight had the courage to coach me and have confrontations with me.'”

“He wasn’t trying to be my friend,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know the talent I had and I didn’t know the type of person I would grow to be. I knew at 17 I wasn’t the person I wanted to be or the type of player I was going to be.”

Thomas also touched on his battles with Knight while at IU.

“At the end of the day you realize Coach Knight was no little dude,” Thomas said. “He was 6-6 and he would get all red when he started screaming and hollering. It was like, ‘OK, this is going to be a long battle.'”

Isiah Thomas on Larry Bird, Malice at the Palace

After his playing career, Thomas was the head coach of the Indiana Pacers from 2000 to 2003. Larry Bird, who coached the Pacers before Thomas, took over as the team’s president of basketball operations.

“I had some young guys that I had put a little pepper in and we were ready to win,” Thomas said. “Now that we were ready to win, Larry Bird tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You’ve done a good job here. I like the job you have done. As a matter of fact, I like it so much, I’m going to give it to my friend.’ His name was Rick Carlisle.'”

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Bird fired Thomas and hired Carlisle, who led the Pacers to a 61-21 record during the 2003-04 season. During the podcast, Thomas, as he has done before, said the Malice at the Palace fight, which took place during the 2004-05 season in Detroit, would not have happened if he was the coach.

“There would be no Malice at the Palace if I was coaching that team because I don’t think the Detroit Pistons fans would have acted that way with me,” Thomas said. “By the way, if I was up 15 in Detroit, I wouldn’t have had my starters out on the floor at that time. I just wouldn’t. I definitely wouldn’t have had Artest in the game at that time. I knew my players, I knew my team. I think Rick was still learning those guys.”

Watch the full Isiah Thomas interview on The Pivot Podcast

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