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Isiah Thomas calls recent Chicago shootings 'heartbreaking'

Isiah Thomas was at his home in suburban New York last weekend, watching television, when something all-too-familiar flashed across the screen.

"I just dropped my head," he said.

Thomas was reacting to a news report detailing another spate of gun-related deaths in his hometown.

Over July 4 weekend in Chicago, 55 people were shot, according to news reports. Ten of those shooting victims eventually died.

It was another instance in which gun violence in Chicago garnered national attention.

For Thomas, a Chicago native, the shootings were "heartbreaking." Thomas spends time working with youth in at-risk neighborhoods his hometown and other cities through his foundation, Mary's Court.

Among those killed last weekend in Chicago was a 7-year-old boy who was shot in the chest as he watched fireworks.

"It cuts to the core of you because ... all the time you spend with the kids, you know how loving they are, you see how bright their futures are and to see it get cut short is very disturbing, it's very heartbreaking," Thomas, a Hall of Fame NBA player and the current president of the WNBA's New York Liberty, said. "For myself, growing up on the West Side of Chicago and having gone to some of my friends' funerals, who were killed at a very young age, it's one of the most heartbreaking things in life that can ever occur when a mother or father has to bury a son or daughter."

Thomas has worked with community leaders and elected officials in Chicago to try to stem the violence found in many neighborhoods.

He's helped organize basketball tournaments in Chicago and New York for gang members and other teens, dubbed the "Peace Games." Thomas has also worked with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to organize basketball leagues in parks in neighborhoods with crime issues in Chicago. He plans to continue to work with community leaders via Mary's Court -- named after his mother, Mary Thomas.

And Thomas' efforts are needed.

According to crime statistics kept by the Chicago Tribune, violent crime in Chicago declined in the final months of 2014 but has increased in the first six months of 2015.

"We have to keep addressing the conditions of poverty. I grew up below the poverty line and I can tell you from personal experience that growing up in poverty, you can be educated, you can have a healthy and safe environment," Thomas said. "But when you put drugs and weapons on top of poverty -- that makes the conditions almost unbearable."

Thomas' hiring as president of the Liberty drew criticism from many corners because of his role as a defendant in a sexual harassment case involving an ex-Madison Square Garden executive during his tenure with the Knicks.

Thomas says he's "aware" of the criticism but adds that it will not impact his community service efforts.

"When you see their faces, the reaction that I get from the community when I'm there giving time, I guess you live for those moments," he says. "I see myself in those kids' eyes. I was one of the kids that people could have easily given up on, but people didn't give up on me and I'm not going to give up on the kids who desperately need our help."


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