Lance Thomas of the New York Knicks is a fierce competitor, on and off the basketball court. It is that competitive spirit that helped Thomas, a co-captain, lead the Duke Blue Devils to a 2010 NCAA Championship and turn a 10-day contract with the Knicks into a 4-year, $27M NBA contract. It has also led Thomas to head a competitive fishing team, SlangMagic, in his off season. Rolling out spoke exclusively to the baller about how his love for fishing began, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, new Knicks coach David Fizdale, and his time in a Harlem-based program called New Heights.
Rolling out: When did you start fishing?
Lance Thomas: I started fishing in North Carolina when I was at Duke. One of my best friends, Kenjuan Nichols, took me fishing on a lake called Falls Lake in Durham, North Carolina. I was just wondering where the hell we were going and he was like, “Yeah, we’re going to go fishing. We have to go get some worms, and we have to put the stuff on hooks” and I was like, “I’m not touching no worms. What are you talking about? I’m from [New York]!” I wasn’t thinking about touching no worms, touching no slimy fish. Once we went, I enjoyed it. We kept going and eventually I got to the point where I was putting my own bait on the hook and taking the fish off myself. So yeah, that’s how it started and it just kept evolving from there.
ro: You played for a great coach in Mike Krzyzewski. What are qualities that make for a great coach?
LT: Amazing leadership, accountability, telling the truth all the time, and being consistent. That was all the things that he was and still is. That’s why he is one of the best to ever do it.
ro: How often do you communicate with him? What are some things you learned from him that help on and off the court?
LT: I speak to coach once a month or once every two months. He’s instilled a lot of really good life lessons in me. I feel like a lot of my mental toughness that I have as a player has come from playing under him. He’s always had a thing where there is no other alternative but to win and to work hard. I live by that still. I always push myself and push others around me because I know that great things happen when everybody is doing it together.
ro: You don’t know him that well but what skills do you see in David Fizdale that could make him a great coach?
LT: I liked his interview. He answered a lot of the questions very well. He’s one of the guys who said, ”I looked in a mirror and I had to realize that I wasn’t perfect and I did make mistakes.” To be able to have the presence of mind to be able to look in the mirror and to assess that what you were doing wasn’t right and try to do everything in your power to figure it out, that’s very noble. As a man that is something that is very admirable. He’s coming over here to help rebuild a culture and bring winning back to New York. He preached a lot of defense and style of play. I thought it was very good.
ro: How did the New Heights program impact you?
LT: They really helped me get ready for college. They helped me with life skills. Just being accountable, being punctual. I had to come from New Jersey for a lot of our practices and a lot of our meetings. They didn’t care that I was in New Jersey. I had to be there on time just like everyone else. I had to come there and I had to work hard. I had a lot of really good mentors in the people that worked there. It was an amazing thing to be a part of because I watched a lot of my teammates and the guys younger than me lives be changed with adding structure, with adding tutors to help those that weren’t doing well in school, SAT prep, just guidance and giving the kids some activities other than letting them hang out on the streets with their friends. It’s a great thing. I was involved with it at the grassroots level. And to see the strides that they’ve made up to this point, it’s unbelievable.
Now, I’m finding ways to impact the organization and help fundraise. I was part of that program and I know the great things that they’re doing with the kids. When I am not on the court or in the ocean I am thinking of ways to help better them.
ro: Any fond memories of playing ball in Brooklyn or Harlem?
LT: We played in Harlem, we played in Brooklyn, we played in Queens, we played outside of the state. I have a lot of really good memories of epic battles against some of the best teams ever. When I was on the team, they used to call us Lance and the Papi’s because it was me and a bunch of Dominicans from Washington Heights that were on the team. We beat a lot of really good teams by just playing hard and having that New York grit.
I remember we played against the Tim Thomas players, which was one of the best AAU programs in the tri-state.
I remember we beat them in front of a packed gym.
I was probably the only tall person on the team but we were resilient, we ran hard, we were picking up guys full court, we played hard and we won the game. That’s one of the memories I’ll never forget celebrating with them.
Learn more about New Heights at http://www.newheightsnyc.org and visit https://www.slangmagic.com/ to keep up with the competitive fishing team. Follow Thomas on Instagram @mrlance42 and the team @slangmagicfishing