First let me say that Isiah Thomas is quick and smart and warm and funny and an extremely talented basketball player who deserves everything he gets. So I am not surprised his face is on the front of Coke cans, and that he has just signed with a local TV station.

It is the path of success: Isiah Thomas, the man. Isiah Thomas, the TV star. Isiah Thomas, the endorsement spokesman.

Isiah Thomas, the horse.

The horse?

Yes. The horse. I am not making this up. There is a racehorse named Isiah Thomas. If you doubt me, you can go to a place called Northfield Park near Cleveland next weekend and watch the animal run. And you can scream, “GO, ISIAH, GO!” — just as you would at a Pistons game.

You can even bet on him. Chuck Daly, the Pistons coach, already has. Two weeks ago, Daly, Pistons assistant coach Dick Versace and public relations director Matt Dobek went to that track and bet $20 each on their man. Er, horse.

And he won.

And they each made $110.

Now, this is unusual, even for America. Many men get to see their name in lights; few get to see it in the Daily Racing Form. Here is what I want to know: Does the horse have an outside jumper? Can the horse play defense? If Larry Bird were also equine, would he be just another good horse?

Eager to find the answers, I called Lowell Lockhart, the horse’s owner. I expected a rich old man who sips mint juleps. As it turns out, Lowell does not sip mint juleps. Lowell is not rich. Lowell is a plumber. He returned my call from a job.

“I can’t talk too long,” he said. “This woman’s drain is clogged up real bad.” The horse loves basketball

“You’re the man who owns Isiah Thomas?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Gee. It’s not often you meet plumbers who dabble in racehorses. Except at the $3 window.”

“My parents own horses. My mother named this horse Isiah Thomas, after her favorite player. We own Isiah’s mother, too. His father was a stud from New Jersey.”

A stud from New Jersey?

“And how is . . . Isiah doing?” I asked.

“He’s doing great. He’s won seven races already. He’s made over $20,000.”

“Is he at all like Isiah the athlete?”

“Yeah, he has a lot of heart. Like in Game 6 of the NBA championships? When Isiah was hurt but he still played? This horse is like that.”

Great. Next time the horse sprains its ankle and is listed as
“doubtful,” I’m putting all my money on it.

Now. OK. The naming of non-human objects after sports stars is not new. But usually it is a candy bar, like the Reggie.

This is a horse of a different color. And it makes me wonder about a few things.

For example: Does the horse answer to “Zeke”?

When the horse is introduced, does he run out and slap hooves with his fellow colts?

When the horse wins, does its mother say: “Ooh, Isiah.” Or does she just whinny like the others?

“Actually, the horse likes basketball,” Lockhart said. “We threw a few in his stall. He enjoyed it.”

“Did he dribble?”

“No, he just chewed them.” Here comes Isiah down the stretch Of course, there are certain obvious differences between Isiah the horse and Isiah the man. For one thing, I doubt the horse is housebroken. Also, the man has no tail. At least, I haven’t seen one.

Nonetheless, people are very excited about this relationship. I am told the track announcer at Northfield has a great time with it: “Here comes Isiah Thomas down the stretch . . . Isiah Thomas dribbles ahead . . . Isiah Thomas is traveling . . .”

But the real fun might be yet to come. This horse, it turns out, has a younger brother.

“What are you going to name him?” I asked.

“Magic Johnson,” Lockhart said.

Naturally. Then, when Magic gets older, it can run against Isiah, and they can kiss before each race. Or whatever horses do. I don’t even want to know; it sounds disgusting.

By the way, for all this to happen, Thomas, the man, had to give his permission. No problem. He told the Lockharts he was “honored” they would name their horse after him, and I thought that was nice.

Besides, he’s setting a precedent here. One day we could have a colt named Larry Bird running against a colt named Michael Jordan. The Kentucky Derby will be won by Kurt Rambis, a horse with glasses. Pepsi? American Express? The heck with them. A man will not have truly made it in pro sports until a four-legged animal bears his name.

And is owned by a plumber.

Unfortunately, the original Isiah Thomas hasn’t been down to see his horse yet, as he is busy becoming the Official Spokesman for Everything Under the Sun. We can only hope he does as well with his contract renegotiations, since he is certainly worth more than the measly $750,000 a year the Pistons are paying him.

After all, a name as famous as Isiah Thomas shouldn’t be working for peanuts.

Carrots, maybe. Not peanuts. CUTLINE

Isiah Thomas

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