Isaiah Thomas delivers free books — and melts hearts — in visit to hometown children

Story by John Iwasaki / Photos by Laura Reinhardt

Isaiah Thomas is exceptional, and not just because he's a little guy succeeding among giants in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas, point guard for the Sacramento Kings, drew a crowd when he visited Boze Elementary School in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington.

Isaiah Thomas, point guard for the Sacramento Kings, drew a crowd when he visited Boze Elementary School in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington.

The 5-foot-9-inch point guard for the Sacramento Kings melted the hearts of students during a late May visit to Boze Elementary School in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington.

Thomas handed out free hardback books in a distribution organized by World Vision and Metro Parks Tacoma in partnership with First Book, a nonprofit that provides new books to schools and other organizations serving low-income children.

After answering questions from third-graders gathered in the school library about life in the NBA ("Do you play with LeBron James?"), a boy in the back row raised his hand.

"Why did you choose to come here?" 9-year-old Connar asked the Kings' rising star, fresh off his career-best season in points and assists.

"Because you're special," Thomas replied.

That struck an emotional chord in a school where 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and where some kids are homeless.

Isaiah Thomas handed out books provided through World Vision's partnership with First Book. Next to Thomas are World Vision's Jose Barron (in orange T-shirt) and a Boze Elementary teacher.

Isaiah Thomas handed out books provided through World Vision's partnership with First Book. Next to Thomas are World Vision's Jose Barron (in orange T-shirt) and a Boze Elementary teacher.

"Ohh... Thank you," the children responded, almost in unison. "Thank you."

World Vision staff members delivered about 500 books to Boze for preschoolers through fifth-graders, some of whom have no books at home, teachers said.

The books passed out by Thomas — a variety of Disney titles ranging from "Snow White" to "The Lion King" — were a tangible expression of his feelings toward students.

"He was taking care of my school," Heaven, 8, said after hearing Thomas speak. Added her 9-year-old classmate, Amanda: "It made me feel special."

Standing beneath a library sign that said, "Let a Book Put the World in Your Hands," Thomas encouraged students to "read as many books as possible this summer. There's always time to play outside. Try to put aside time for reading each and every day. You'll not only be a better reader, you'll definitely be learning a lot of things."

He remembered that "when I was your age, it was hard to get me into the house to read." That changed after he started reading sports magazines and thinking of possibilities in life.

Playing in the NBA is "something I’ve dreamed about," Thomas said. "To do this as a job is a blessing from God. I don't take one day for granted."

In addition to deep poverty, Boze has high numbers of students who speak English as a second language, Principal Arron Wilkins said. World Vision's Teacher Resource Center provides free school supplies to Boze educators along with supply-filled backpacks for students.

Joyful students hold up new books presented to them by Isaiah Thomas (center) in the library of Boze Elementary.

Joyful students hold up new books presented to them by Isaiah Thomas (center) in the library of Boze Elementary.

"First Book and World Vision are awesome partners," Wilkins said. "We want to continue to hold hands with partners [working to] develop the collective knowledge of students."

Because many young boys at his school dream of playing pro sports, he was pleased to hear an NBA player emphasize academics.

"Isaiah is not only an athlete," Wilkins said. "He's pushing the kind of currency we want to push, which is literacy."

Thomas also offers summer youth basketball camps in Tacoma and works with World Vision to give toys and basketballs to local children at Christmas.

He said the visit to Boze, which included signing autographs and posing for photos with students, made him think of his childhood in Tacoma.

"Being in their position before, when someone you look up to takes an interest in you — that goes a long way," Thomas said. "I always wanted to give back to the city that made me...I'll do anything to put a smile on people's faces. That's what it's all about."

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