Less than 24 hours after signing his first big NBA contract, Lance Thomas was at a gym in Manhattan speaking with a group of young kids at basketball camp. He spent almost two hours answering questions, taking pictures and signing autographs.
“It’s an amazing thing to just see the excitement on their faces, to remember when I was that age, what it was like and what I would have felt like if the roles were reversed. It’s a blessing,” Thomas said. “I would have went nuts if Larry Johnson or another Knicks player walked in the gym when I was a kid. It would have been an out-of-body experience.”
On the way out of the gym, Thomas took a few minutes to talk to ESPN.com about his decision to re-sign with the New York Knicks, why he loves playing in New York and what he thinks of the Knicks’ new signings.
Below is an edited Q&A with Thomas after his appearance at the NYC Basketball Kids summer camp.
Q: You wrote recently about your remarkable NBA journey in a piece in The Players' Tribune. What does it mean to come from that place to where you are today?
Lance Thomas: "I wouldn’t have my journey any other way. I appreciate the obstacles that I had to go through to be where I’m at. It makes me just appreciate it so much more. There’s parts of my journey that aren’t even in the article. But it’s made me who I am, and it’s given me this chip on my shoulder that I need to be good at this game."
Q: You told the children that there were times you considered quitting. When was that?
LT: "I’m a competitor and I don’t like to be outdone or told that I can’t do something. But when enough people start saying something, you start to believe it. In my heart of hearts, I didn’t believe it. I knew that I had more to give. I knew that if I really wanted it, I could push and had more to give the game. So I played mind games with myself. I would compete against myself when I was working out to remain as mentally tough as possible. I think that mental toughness got me where I’m at today."
Q: What was your mindset coming into free agency? (Thomas signed a four-year deal with the Knicks on Friday worth $6.1 million in Year 1.)
LT: "I wanted to be a Knick. I grew up a Knicks fan; this is the team I grew up watching. Me being from the area and planning on being in the area for the majority of my life, I didn’t want my legacy as a Knick to be a loser. My first year, the team, we had not a good record. Last year was better, but as a competitor and a winner, I want more. The city wants more. And everybody that wants a Knicks jersey should want more. I don’t want to be a losing Knick. I want to win in New York. My decision to come back was pretty easy. The moves we made made it even easier."
Q: What’s it like having job security now, something you haven’t had in previous stops?
LT: "I don’t know what it’s like yet because I haven’t received a penny from this contract. Regardless, I don’t see myself switching up the formula. Now is the time to really put the pedal to the floor and go after it. That was my mindset already, but I just feel like my chip on my shoulder is even bigger. I don’t feel like I accomplished anything. I want to win. This contract is great, it’s a blessing, something I’ve really worked day in and day out to have an opportunity to be in this position. Ultimately, I play basketball to win. I feel like once I lose that desire to win in basketball, I’ll stop playing it. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
LT: "We got some dogs on the team now. We’ve got some guys who have shown in our career that they are dogs, that know how to get it done. Guys who are just tough. Joakim is from here. Joakim knows what it’s like to win. ... Courtney, he’s always given me problems when I played against him, so it’s great to have him on our side. Brandon, obviously, is a killer. He’s hit some big shots against the teams I was on. He’s a cocky player and fans love that, especially when you can back it. He’s done that. Obviously [Rose] is an amazing player, and he’s ready to start dominating again. He’s ready to have a really good season. I think it’s a contract season for him. What better market to play for than New York?"