It takes a lot to leave yours truly speechless, but a phone call earlier this week did just that.
"Hi. I work for Isiah Thomas and he'd like to talk to you," said the voice at the other end of the line.I very cleverly said nothing for several moments before coming up with an oh-so-eloquent response: "Yeeaaah?" I said, at the same time thinking about all the less-than-positive things I've written about the NBC sportscaster in the past week or so.
Things like how he was "spouting nonsense." Or dubbing him a "noted Michael Jordan disciple." Or asking, "What in the world is Isiah Thomas doing as part of NBC's first-team broadcast team?"
As it turns out, Thomas had been made aware of my ramblings and wanted to set me straight on a couple of things. I, of course, envisioned another lovely call with someone yelling at me.
(It has happened before.)
But I'm philosophically (if not emotionally) committed to letting people I've written about yell at me all they want. So I agreed to chat with Thomas, figuring that if it were a phone interview at least I wouldn't be risking personal injury.
(OK, so I'm a wimp.)
As it turns out, Thomas was more than polite - soft-spoken, calm and measured. He laughed at my jokes and I laughed at his.
He acknowledged that he went into this season as a rookie sportscaster and that it took him awhile to get up to speed. "I think early on I had to get a little more concise because I thought I had more time to explain than you really have in television," Thomas said.
He added that he felt that he and Bob Costas had hit their stride when the playoffs arrived.
"I thought once the playoffs rolled around we were definitely, as a team, where we need to be," Thomas said. "Where people enjoy listening to us and hearing the things we have to say. Now, they may not agree with the things we have to say . . . "
People like, say, a certain television critic in Salt Lake City.
Not that I'm alone. Among other things, the Chicago Tribune's Steve Johnson had this to say: "Thomas is especially notable for his untenable, knee-jerk defense of Dennis Rodman, his former teammate with the evil Detroit Pistons. If the Bulls' flagrant forward were to be caught choking Utah Jazz guard John Stockton during Wednesday night's fourth game, Thomas would explain that's just the way Dennis is: He needs to have his hands around an annoying guy's throat to get motivated."
Still, Thomas said he doesn't feel picked upon.
"For the most part, they've been pretty positive," he said. "Every now and then you get a little snipe or a little hit. But no one has really taken me apart. You said a couple of things that I didn't agree with; however, you didn't come out and just say, `He stinks. He sucks. He's bad.' "
(Nah. I'm mean, but I'm not that mean. And I actually have written some nice things about him - three, at last count.)
Thomas said he appreciates criticism.
"If you're doing something wrong and you're doing something bad, then you need to correct that. And if someone points that out to you, then take the time to correct it. That's the way I view it," he said.
But he rejects the notion that he's biased, pointing to a moment in Game 2 when he was contradicted by fellow NBC analyst Doug Collins, who dismissed Thomas' comments that Karl Malone had kicked the ball by saying it was an inadvertent kick.
"I didn't say anything on the air, but there's no such rule," Thomas said. "Somebody said that I was trying to homer Utah because I pointed out that Karl Malone kicked the ball and it was an inadvertent kick, but there's no such rule.
"I don't mind when they're right. But when it's a rule interpretation of something, because I've played before and I've been there and I know what's going on." "
(For the record, that was a subject of conversation on local sports-talk radio, but I never criticized Thomas for those comments.)
Did I completely buy Thomas' assertions that he's completely unbiased? No, for a couple of reasons.
First, I have a job in which I comment on and criticize others. And it's impossible to keep your personal feelings out of a job like that.
And, second, he still speaks adoringly of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman, and considerably less so of Malone and Stockton.
Still, Thomas is a smart guy. It's not a bad idea to try to chat pleasantly with people who've criticized you. And I guess I should be flattered that he took the time to respond to something I'd written.
Plus, he didn't yell at me.
"Don't think that I don't like you. And I wasn't calling to scream at you or anything," Thomas said. "Hey, I had Bobby Knight as a coach so I know how that feels on the other end. So I don't scream at anybody."