Giving Henry Thomas His Due

To me and countless others, Hank was more than an agent. He was whatever we needed him to be

What a night.

When I grew up, I’d rip pages out of Slam Magazine and put them on my walls as posters. 

There have been a lot of tears between then and now—tears of joy and tears of sadness.

But last month, that kid—the same one with those makeshift posters on the wall—had a chance to stand in front of his heroes as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

I’ll never forget what it felt like to deliver that speech—and, to be honest, I’m still coming down from it. I am so grateful for everyone who told me it meant something to them. And if you’re haven’t seen it, I hope you check it out:

I’ll be honest: I left everything on the court with that speech. But that’s not to say I didn’t leave a thing or two out. Not on purpose—it’s just that when you’re trying to fit a lifetime of gratitude into a speech, there’s always going to be something—or someone—you end up kicking yourself for not mentioning. 

For me, that person is my agent Henry Thomas. A kind, thoughtful, honest man in an industry that doesn’t always reward those traits, Hank became a role model from the moment he signed me—and even though he’s gone, I still often find myself asking: “What would Hank do?” 

In the beginning, I looked up to Hank in part because he’d been where I had—on the college court. A child of Chicago, he played ball at Bradley University a couple hours away, where his afro made up for the inches he may not have had in height. After graduating, Hank brought the same smooth talk and hard hustle he’d had as an athlete to his work representing them later in life. And that’s exactly what I saw when I met him as a 19 year-old headed for the league. 

Back then, I was an excited and impressionable kid with a lot to learn. But I also was clear on a few key values, one of which was this: I wanted to be around successful Black men who were serious about their business. Guys who had spent real time learning to put themselves together but never lost sight of the human element in their dealings. Who’d help you hustle, but never hustle you. I sensed all of that immediately in Hank—I’m sure anyone who’s ever met him did, too. 

By the time he came into my life, Hank was well on his way to becoming the greatest agent Chicago had ever seen.. I could sense that even though I was a skinny ass 19 year-old kid.  And it wasn’t just me he was interested in, either—I’ve written before about Hank introducing me to a young superstar named Dwyane Wade. We’ve always shared that connection, alongside a deep love and appreciation for Hank. Before we were on the same team in Miami, we were a part of another family: Hank’s.

After I ended up in Toronto, Hank would visit at least once every month. Depending on where I was at, we’d shoot the shit or have a tough conversation about the future, the kind I couldn’t imagine having with anyone else. When I think about the life-altering decisions I made throughout my career, there’s always a moment with Hank—a dinner, a phone call—to go along with it, one that helped me get to the point of making that choice in the first place. Same thing goes for the mistakes. I could always count on Hank to give it to me straight in the aftermath of a misstep. I can hear him saying Yeah, man, you messed up in my head, clear as day: nothing on it, no spin or judgment, just a simple fact. I’ve come across plenty of people in positions like Hank’s over the course of my career, and I promise you many of them wouldn’t be able to do the same, because they put themselves before everything and everyone else. Hank never did.

So it’s not a given that you’ll have an agent like Hank when you start playing professionally. And because I had that privilege, along with guys like D-Wade, Udonis Haslem, Tim Hardaway Sr., Michael Finley, Anthony Parker, and Shaun Livingston. I received an education in so many of the things that you aren’t taught in schools, things that are best taught by mentors: Accountability. Business savvy. Decency. Hank exemplified all these things just by being himself. He built his own company, Thomas Sports Management, from the ground up, before selling it to CSMG a decade later—and ended up becoming President over there. By the time he made it to CAA, Hank had a rep for recognizing talent and appealing to the people who had it.

All that time, he was building lifelong connections with those players. To Hank, representing someone meant way more than negotiating their deals and getting a commission. It meant being a voice of reason, in their heads and on the other end of their phones. It meant encouraging players to do things they might not have thought they were capable of—and letting them know when they’d missed the mark for not pushing themselves as  hard as they could. He was a father figure, an uncle, a brother, whatever you needed him to be. He was the person you could call any time of day or night and be sure you wouldn’t get the machine. And because of that, his own calls were always answered on the first ring, by everyone from unknown prospects to Pat Riley. 

There’s a reason I’m telling you this in the past tense. Hank passed three years ago, at the age of 64. He was entering a whole new act in his life as a caring father, a family man. For those of us who’d already felt like a part of his extended basketball family for more than a decade, it was a loss beyond words. And on a personal level, the timing of Hank passing took on a whole new meaning for me: I was still trying to get back into the league and play again but was eventually heading for retirement—losing the game at the same time I lost a man who had defined my time playing it. It was a crushing time, but it clarified one thing: Basketball wouldn’t have been the same without Hank. And I know I’m not the only person who thinks about him when reflecting on their time in the NBA.

In fact, I thought about Hank when I looked out at the audience in Springfield last month. I thought that everyone who was sharing the stage with me that night must have been there because they had a Hank in their life—someone that selfless, inspiring, loyal, and tough. In that moment, seeing my family up front, I was also reminded how important it was to follow Hank’s example off the court, too. 

Because if you can access what I believe was Hank’s greatest ability—to remain a good man in a tough world—you won’t only set yourself up for success. You will lift up the people you care about, no matter what business you’re in. And while Hank may be gone, these lessons he taught me—and everyone in his path—will be with us for the rest of our lives.