Isiah To Be Enshrined in Hall

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Isiah Thomas' face is cherubic; his smile is charming. Yet, he helped make Dennis Rodman as bad as he could be on the basketball court.

The Basketball Hall of Fame is putting that grin back on Thomas' face on Friday when he steps into the company of the game's greats.

He joins five other new members: outstanding shooter Bob McAdoo; Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt; Morgan Wootten, the most winning high school coach ever, of DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md.; Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton; and the late Syracuse Nationals founder Danny Biasone, who introduced the 24-second clock.

Few entering players have looked more harmless than Thomas. But the baby face and unimposing 6-foot-1 frame was deceiving. With the temperament of a street boxer and an executioner's heart, Thomas helped make the NBA not just beautiful, but bruising.

Ask Chuck Daly, who coached Thomas, Rodman, Vinnie Johnson, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Co. — the Bad Boys of Detroit. ``We kind of lived up to it. We were a very physical team. We did not have the finesse,'' Daly said. ``We had to win another way.''

As a Pistons guard, Thomas ran the offense for NBA championship teams in 1989 and 1990. He could jump, shoot, pass and steal balls like few others, averaging 19.2 points and 9.3 assists in his career. He ranks fourth in NBA assists. A 12-time All-Star, he commanded a spot on the NBA's list of 50 greatest players in 1996.

``He might have been the best player in history if he were 5 inches taller,'' Daly said.

The sometimes combative Thomas, who grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood, disliked nothing more than losing. He refused to shake hands with Michael Jordan and the rest of the Chicago team when it bumped the Pistons from the 1991 Eastern Conference playoffs, although Thomas later said he regretted his behavior.

Thomas tasted success early with an NCAA championship at Indiana in 1981, scoring 23 points in a 63-50 victory over North Carolina.

In recent years, he has refused to fade quietly into NBA retirement. He became part owner and general manager of the Toronto Raptors, bought the Continental Basketball Association for $10 million, worked in broadcasting and carried out other business ventures.

In July, he took on his first coaching job, replacing Larry Bird with the Indiana Pacers.

As a 6-foot-9 forward, McAdoo led the NBA in scoring from 1973-1974 through 1975-76, averaging more than 30 points in each of the three seasons. He averaged 22.1 points and 9.4 rebounds for his career.

``The mechanics can be taught, but the touch comes from the soul — and he had the greatest touch in a big man I've ever seen,'' said Miami coach Pat Riley, who coached McAdoo with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Few know about winning better than Summitt. In 26 seasons at Tennessee, she has led the Lady Vols to six national championships, including a 39-0 record in 1997-98. Summitt holds a 728-150 win-loss record.

She also coached the U.S. women to a 1984 Olympic gold medal.