Here are the behind-the-scenes stories from the road.
Isaiah Thomas remembers his sacrifice
Whatever Mama Jenkins put into that bruschetta, it must have been addictive. In the locker room, the tray was nearly empty an hour before the Wizards played the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
Near his corner of the room, Isaiah Thomas didn’t seem too hungry. Just ready.
Wednesday marked the first time Thomas returned to play against the Celtics, with whom he built his all-star reputation, as an opposing starter. Boston was ready for his return, too. Hours before the game, a TD Garden worker rushed to make the freight elevator and spotted the officials for that night’s game.
“What’dya think?” the man said to Tre Maddox, Brent Barnaky and Mitchell Ervin. “Isaiah for 40 tonight?”
Impartial even behind the scenes, the refs, smiling, didn’t respond. Still, that prediction seemed a bit low; after all, Thomas said he wanted to score 50 against his former team. Partly because Thomas wants to score 50 against any NBA team. But really, because he remembers.
During the 2016-17 season, his last in Boston, Thomas suffered the hip injury that would mar his next two years. Thomas often has said he has “moved on” from the way Boston traded him to Cleveland after his all-NBA season. But his feelings about the Celtics are complicated, and they come out when he is asked about the current trend of load management.
“I almost messed up my career playing while hurt,” Thomas said. “I’m lucky to get back to be able to play, to be able to hopefully show everybody I can still play at a high level.”
Thomas thinks he is the poster boy for players protecting their bodies. His words drip with context and explain his feelings about the Celtics.
“That’s players being smart about their body, worrying about themselves, which you should. The most important thing is yourself,” Thomas said. “These organizations, most of the time, they care about what you can do for them. They don’t care if you get hurt. They don’t care about that at all — most of them. So take care of yourself, and guys are starting to do that, and that’s what’s most important, no matter what. Look out for yourself.”
Scott Brooks and his brush with The Purple One
On Friday, after the Wizards beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 137-116, music filled the visitors’ locker room. Bradley Beal was enraptured by hip-hop artist DaBaby’s new video “BOP on Broadway,” rapping along to some of the lyrics and turning his phone toward John Wall so he could watch, too. However, McRae took charge of the locker room speaker and blasted J. Cole — to some dissent.
“We just won. We got to go bed?” Thomas said, speaking up from his stall.
McRae, feeling the pressure of being the locker room DJ, scrolled his phone for new material.
“Ohhh, man!” McRae said. “In Orlando, we’re going to see what I.T.'s playlist hitting on.”
McRae teased Thomas, saying he only listens to Nipsey Hussle. For the record, while Thomas was a friend and huge fan of the slain rapper, he says he has a more diverse playlist. Still, Nip is his favorite artist.
If Coach Scott Brooks’s iPhone were connected, chances are the speaker would have been blasting “Little Red Corvette.” Brooks is a massive Prince fan. He saw his favorite artist roughly 10 times in concert. Once he came this close to meeting him.
Brooks, a well-traveled NBA journeyman during his career, played for the Timberwolves from 1990 to 1992. One night in Minneapolis, Prince came to see his hometown team.
“My best Prince story? I see him in the tunnel,” Brooks recalled. “He wasn’t in seats; he was just watching the game in the tunnel. All I was saying: ‘Make sure this game doesn’t go [into] overtime and make sure it’s a blowout so the referees don’t call calls, because I want to meet him. The game goes as I was planning … no overtime, not a lot of calls, and we got our butts kicked. So I get back there, and guess what?”
Prince was gone.
“That was my only chance I had to meet him and see him and talk to him live,” Brooks said. “But I’ve been to many of his concerts and, like I say many times, he’s the greatest performer of the history of the planet.”
French connection in Orlando
No speaker blasted music after Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic. The quiet wasn’t the only thing that stood out. Former NBA player Boris Diaw waited inside the Wizards’ space, making small talk with team staffers as they hit the postgame buffet.
Strange as it might have been to see Diaw chilling in the locker room, he actually had a purpose. He serves as a sort of attache for the French national team and travels around the NBA to catch up with French players in the league. In Orlando, Diaw could connect with both Magic guard Evan Fournier and Wizards big man Ian Mahinmi. Over a span of two weeks, Diaw said he planned to catch up with 10 French players.
“This one’s the classiest one,” Diaw said as Mahinmi walked across the locker room to leave with his friend.
Mahinmi, dressed in a bespoke black suit, is the founder of clothing line French Deal. Over the years, teammates of Mahinmi’s have purchased his stylish shirts and suits. But Diaw, who last played in the NBA in 2017, may need the French discount.
“It’s expensive as hell, though,” Diaw joked. “I’m retired. I can’t afford it.”
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