Throwback: President Reagan’s assassination attempt nearly postponed Isiah Thomas’ NCAA title victory

In 1981, Isiah Thomas guided the Indiana Hoosiers to an NCAA victory, displaying incredible talent and leadership under the direction of coach Bob Knight. However, the assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan cast a shadow over the sporting event, as it did with pretty much everything else on a national scale.

The entire country was held hostage by the assassination attempt, and it almost marred the celebrations of Thomas and his team, despite Indiana winning the NCAA title.

Indiana, Isiah Thomas won the NCAA title after Ronald Reagan shot in 1981

President Ronald Reagan was shot outside the Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. Initially, Reagan’s injury went unnoticed, but he was later hospitalized.

The incident came at a time when the NCAA season reached its pinnacle and Isiah Thomas’ Indiana Hoosiers were about to play the title decider against North Carolina. Ted Kitchel, one of Indiana’s starting forwards that night, shared, “Coach [Bob] Knight always had us in meetings on game days during trips. It was a routine. So after a meeting and breakfast, we were tuning into ‘Days’ before our next session when the news broke. It caught us off guard.”

Later that day, while uncertainty loomed about the severity of the president’s injuries, the NCAA basketball committee debated what to do about the national championship game. They considered playing as scheduled, delaying it by 24 or 48 hours, or cancelling it and declaring Indiana and North Carolina co-champions.

Eventually, the game was played, and Indiana led 27-26 at halftime after Randy Wittman’s buzzer-beating jumper. Isiah Thomas excelled in the second half, making two notable steals that turned into baskets.

With 23 points, Thomas was the top scorer of the night as Indiana defeated UNC 63-50, securing their second national title in five years.

After the championship game, the committee decided to kick off the consolation game between Virginia and LSU (the final year of the consolation game at the Final Four) on schedule. Fewer than a thousand viewers tuned in, leaving many involved to question why the game went ahead.

Isiah Thomas had a stellar NBA career

While Zeke had a fantastic collegiate career with an NCAA title to top it off, his NBA tenure was nothing short of legendary. Thomas was a master of ball handling, renowned for his quickness and agility on the court throughout his time in the NBA.

He played his entire career with the Detroit Pistons, leading them to back-to-back NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990. The “Bad Boys” Pistons, with Isiah Thomas as their leader, became a cultural symbol in the NBA due to their tough and gritty style of play, going up against the Chicago Bulls and Magic Johnson’s Lakers. They embraced physicality and rock-solid defense, becoming one of the most formidable teams in NBA history.

Isiah Thomas
via FromTheBend

Over the course of his exceptional NBA career, Isiah Thomas displayed outstanding court vision, able to thread precise passes to his teammates with ease. His scoring ability was remarkable, capable of driving to the basket or shooting from mid-range with accuracy. Thomas’s defensive prowess was equally impressive, known for his tenacity in stealing the ball and disrupting opponents’ plays. For his all-round prowess and exceptional on-court displays, Isiah Thomas has been widely regarded as one of the best players to have graced the game.

SZ Desk

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