Wizards' Thomas ready to go

The Baltimore Sun

Etan Thomas is a strong man with strong opinions, a politically active poet with an awesome set of dreadlocks. Throughout his NBA career, there was never a reason to question his desire, his passion, his heart.

So it was humbling and ironic a year ago when, on the eve of training camp, doctors informed the Washington Wizards center that he needed open-heart surgery. As soon as possible.

"When they told me, I was kind of in disbelief," Thomas said. "Because, like, I feel fine. I was just working out the day before."

Thomas' strength was again evident yesterday on the practice court, as he pushed teammates in the paint and drew a foul while making a layup. Tonight, he will play his first regular-season game since the surgery, starting as Washington opens at home against the New Jersey Nets.

Thomas had long known he would one day require a heart procedure because of a heart murmur he first experienced in middle school, but he thought it wouldn't be needed until he was much older. Instead, doctors found a severe problem: a leaking aortic valve.

The leaky valve was replaced during a 4 1/2 -hour operation at the Mayo Clinic, but the operation saps strength from the entire body.

"It started with baby steps, like walking," Thomas said. "In the hospital, taking a little walk around this little track that they have where everybody's walking. Walking around maybe twice - and I was exhausted for the day. Not tired, but wiped out."

So even after Thomas had gone from walking to running to dribbling to shooting, there was still the matter of withstanding the rigors of basketball. He received clearance to start practicing in February, but at the very first workout he took a painful blow to the chest. The comeback would have to wait.

"Last spring, I was little more anxious than I was ready to come back," Thomas said. "And so I had to be patient."

Knicks:: Officers who responded to Isiah Thomas' home after a 911 call reporting an overdose on sleeping pills found a man passed out on the floor and gave him oxygen until an ambulance arrived. Authorities have not publicly identified Thomas as the victim, but a person familiar with the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official police report has not been released, has confirmed it was the former NBA star and New York coach.

Celtics: : General manager Danny Ainge has been given a new title and a contract extension as the team begins the defense of its 17th NBA championship. The team announced Ainge has been promoted to president of basketball operations. The terms of his contract extension were not disclosed.

Last night

Celtics 90, Cavaliers 85: : Paul Pierce, Most Valuable Player in the NBA Finals, scored 27 points as defending champion Boston followed an emotional ring ceremony and banner raising with a victory over visiting Cleveland. The Cavaliers' LeBron James scored 22, but he missed a driving layup with 41 seconds left and two free throws in the last 11 seconds.

Bulls 108, Bucks 95: : Luol Deng (21 points) and Ben Gordon (18) provided enough big shots to lead Chicago over its former coach, Scott Skiles, and visiting Milwaukee, for which Michael Redd scored 30.

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