Etan Thomas’ voice echoed through the streets of Washington, D.C. Near the nation’s capital, four years ago, Thomas passionately pleaded: Bring home America’s troops from Iraq. Andy Shallal was among the 100,000 anti-war supporters that day. Shallal owns Busboys and Poets Bookstore, the premier progressive gathering place in D.C. "I was blown away,” Shallal said. "It sent chills through me on a warm, early fall afternoon. His unequivocal anti-war stand, unwavering call for justice, his passion, I am sorry his voice is not heard more.” A rail thin star at Tulsa Washington, he was challenged by his mother to pursue interests other than sports. After bulking up at Syracuse, becoming the school’s all-time shot block leader, Thomas has played in the NBA for nearly a decade. Acquired by the Thunder for his physical defensive presence this past summer in a trade, Thomas’ primary role is to battle centers like Orlando star Dwight Howard tonight in the Ford Center. But there’s a lot more to Etan Thomas than basketball. Poems express his political and social views on a myriad of subjects like how a girl becomes a teenage pregnancy victim. He informs teenagers in gangs that gun-toting, drug dealers rob them of their souls. He once read his anti-death penalty poem at an ACLU rally. Thomas has visited prisons, inner-city schools and was actively involved in President Barack Obama’s campaign. "Having a different political belief does not make me your enemy,” Thomas said. "Everyone does not have to agree with my politics. All I ask is that you respect me as a man for having an opinion, even if we disagree.” Author of "More Than An Athlete,” a book of poems published in 2004, Thomas’ second tome, "Voices of the Future,” is scheduled to be published next spring. Each chapter will feature a poem written by him, followed by poems he’s collected from teenagers across the country. "I encourage young people to be themselves no matter what anyone thinks of them,” Thomas said. "Don’t follow the crowd. Be original and stay true to yourself. "As long as you’re happy with who you are, and you keep God first, no one else’s opinion really matters. That’s a philosophy that my mother instilled in me at a very young age, words that I live by.” Excerpts of unpublished poems for his upcoming book and excerpts from the first provide insight into one of the most outspoken, interesting players in the NBA.
Sesame StreetOscar wouldn’t be a grouch cuz he’s sitting in classes that tell him he’s less than average Elmo wouldn’t be picked on cuz his voice was a little high Count Dracula wouldn’t be adding up how many kids got shot at my school Cookie Monster would only be addicted to cookies Maybe I need to stop fantasizing Because Sesame Street Never existed for me Selected lines from "Seasame Street” aren’t autobiographical. Thomas said he’s fortunate to have received proper guidance and was challenged to use his mind. Born in Harlem, raised in Tulsa, Thomas’ social interests began at a young age. His mother, Deborah, a schoolteacher who once participated in the National Black Theater, introduced him to piano, jazz, school plays, books, even karate. Taste it all, she said. Choose what you like. At Tulsa Washington, he was known as Derrick Thomas, leading the Hornets to state championships, not only in basketball but debate. He devoured Shakespeare. He wrote his first poem in the ninth grade, inspired by first-hand racial prejudice in Tulsa simply because he wore a hooded sweatshirt. "I don’t tell young people anything that their parents, teachers or preachers haven’t been telling them most of their lives,” Thomas said. "But the people kids usually pay the most attention to are athletes, entertainers, rappers, actors, etc.” Thomas keeps a pen and notebook by his pillow on his nightstand in case an idea comes to him. He is drawn to the written word. When he listens to a song, he focuses on the lyrics. And he writes more than poems. He’s written stories for Sports Illustrated for Kids. He’s a contributing writer for slamonline.com and huffingtonpost.com, where his opinions stir debate in the comment section. The past decade he’s read poems at trendy D.C. coffee houses; was a counselor at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine, a season sanctuary for children from countries at war; has been active with the Congressional Black Caucus and twice spoke on President Obama’s "Register For Change” bus tour. Lakers guard Derek Fisher is president of the NBA Basketball Players Association. Thomas is one of eight players on the board that will negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with owners before the current deal expires in the summer of 2011. "Etan is a rare jewel,” Fisher said. "He’s committed to life outside the NBA. Etan believes there’s a higher purpose, a higher power. He’s committed to using this platform to influence young people and impact lives that will transcend any contributions he has on the court.”
Drug dealersThey came like vampires in the night Blood sucking monsters injecting poison a robbery of innocence inhibiting progression of youthful exuberance nothing is off limits dollar signs corrupted minds as well as souls stolen possibilities Drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, Thomas sat out his first season with a toe injury. Traded to Washington, his social interests were invigorated by protests and rallies in D.C. After reading "The Autobiography of Malcom X,” Thomas not only wrote a poem about the 1960s civil rights advocate he named his son after him. "Etan has never been afraid to speak his mind,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "As you get older you get more outspoken as you mature more. He’s very outspoken but in a good way. He has some very strong convictions and very good ideas.” Dave Zirin is sports editor of People Nation. He hosts a weekly sports radio talk show on Sirrus XM. He’s written for major newspapers and magazines. Living in D.C., where Thomas played for the Wizards seven seasons, Zirin has written several stories on Thomas. "Etan actually cares for people other people have given up on,” Zirin said. "He backs it up. He doesn’t just write poems and speak on TV. He’s put in time in juvenile prisons. He’s visited public schools in Washington, D.C., which I would argue are the worst public schools in the United States. "He’s communicated with people on death row. He tries to see the humanity in everybody. There’s no reason he has to do that. I mean the guy plays in the NBA. He has an attractive, beautiful wife, beautiful kids. He does it because he cares about people.”
Babies having babiesThe mirror was the enemy Boys ignored her To get attention she started to wear less She liked getting the attention So she continued offering a buffet of whatevers She’s fifteen years old A baby having a baby Thomas might be the world’s tallest poet. Standing 6-foot-10 with floppy dreadlocks and wire-rim glasses, he stands out at one of his poetry readings. He pushes for change because he’s chatted with homeless victims. He’s talked with women who face the daunting challenge of raising children by themselves. He’s visited understaffed and under-equipped inner-city schools. Thomas’ idols are Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali, legendary athletes who voiced opinions on subjects other than football, basketball and boxing. Russell, who led the Celtics to nine NBA titles, was one of the first black athletes to speak out on social issues during the turbulent 60s. He refused to substitute for Bob Cousy at speaking engagements if he wasn’t paid the same. Brown was an eight-time NFL rushing champion after finishing fifth in the Heisman balloting behind Paul Hornung who play on a 2-8 Notre Dame team. For decades, Brown has spent his time, energy and money devoted to promote human rights. Ali arguably is the most popular heavyweight champion of all time. He refused to enter the military draft and energized a nation of African-Americans into a greater social consciousness. Thomas has taken a similar path, not afraid to write, or speak, what’s on his heart. His poems sometimes are controversial. Others are raising-awareness topics like voting, wasting talent or a poem dedicated to former OU star Wayman Tisdale, who attended the same high school and died earlier this year. Intrigued in middle school by a brief interest in the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group, one visit to a mosque sent him in a different direction spiritually. A Christian, Thomas admits he’s perplexed on some subjects like abortion. He penned one pro-abortion poem, another anti-abortion. "I am kind of a throw-back type of athlete in that I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in,” Thomas said. "I also use poetry to tell people’s stories. A lot of times I will have conversations, interactions or experiences that weigh heavily on my mind. "I am, and always have been, an observer.”
My first love (basketball)Like freedom to kunta kente, I’ll never let you go Smoother than a miles davis blue note My undying love for you stands taller than three Eiffel Towers This relationship takes practice Some Thunder fans might not care that Thomas writes poems to promote social awareness. But they’re jumping on his bandwagon after watching his toughness give the Thunder a defensive identity that impacted the Lakers game last week. Thomas wasn’t always a bruiser who could hold his own against 7-foot, 280-pound granite giants. He arrived at Syracuse a scrawny 215 pounds, able to squat only 145 pounds. Four years later he left a burly 260 pounds and could squat 400. While he’s never been a big name, Thomas, when healthy, is one of the league’s most effective enforcers. Venture into the paint and he’ll provide powerful resistance. The key for Thomas is avoiding injuries. He underwent heart surgery two years ago, forcing him to sit out the entire season. He was limited to 26 games last season because of a knee injury. As healthy as he’s been in three years, Thomas is re-energized to be playing on a young team on the rise 90 miles south of where he grew up. "My favorite Etan memory is he once dunked on Dwight Howard and talked some trash,” Zirin said. "One of Dwight’s teammates said after the game, ‘I thought this guy was all about peace. He’s mean!’ "He could play a great role on that young team. Not a lot of people drop 11 (points), 17 (rebounds) and six (blocks) on Dwight Howard. When he’s healthy that’s the kind of presence he brings. "Oklahoma City fans are not only getting a helluva person they’re getting a helluva basketball player.”