Tyrus Thomas has taken criticism from the media, been insulted on national television by Charles Barkley, and watched his playing time rise and fall frequently during his rookie season. But whenever Thomas hits times of trouble with the Bulls, all he has to do is look at his left wrist to put the NBA world into perspective.
Thomas wears a rubber bracelet honoring longtime friend Ryan “The Franchise” Francis, who was shot and killed in Baton Rouge, La., while riding in the passenger seat of a car on May 14, 2006.
Sometimes before games, Thomas writes Francis’ name on his shoes, along with the No. 12 his friend wore as a freshman point guard at USC.
“He definitely keeps me focused and keeps me going at the task at hand,” Thomas said. “I write it on my shoes sometimes. But just being on my wrist, I mean, you’ve got to see your wrist all the time. I haven’t taken (the bracelet) off since I got it.”
Thomas guessed that he first met Francis when they were 7 or 8 years old.
“We played almost every day, like pickup, rec ball or biddy ball,” Thomas recalled. “When we got to high school, we went to rival schools.
“He was just a good kid. You ask anybody, they’d say the same. He was the best. A good person. You loved to be around him.”
When asked about Francis, Thomas’ face doesn’t turn sad. Instead, he smiled while recounting memories of his lost friend.
“He was just like one of them guys; you could never be mad at him,” Thomas said. “Even if you were mad at him, you couldn’t be mad at him. He would do something stupid and you’d try. But he was always laughing, always smiling, always clowning around.
“Just one of those guys if you were having a bad day and you were around him, you’d forget about whatever happened. He was just one of those special people.”
Francis wasn’t a bad basketball player, either. He led his high school to an undefeated season and Louisiana state championship as a senior, and then started at point guard during his first year at USC.
“He was more excited for me when I put my name in the (NBA) draft than I was, I think,” Thomas said.