Khimki Moscow Region big man Malcolm Thomas has a particularly special reason to enjoy the current festive season: a visit from his 8-year-old daughter, Mikeala. She made the 10,000-kilometer journey from their home town of San Diego, California, to the Russian capital to enjoy a white Christmas with her dad, and Thomas is naturally delighted to be spending time with her for the first time in months.
“She’s been excited to come to Moscow!” he smiled. “When I told her it snows, she was all for it. And fortunately it has been snowing while she’s been here, so that’s great.”
Although they are geographically separated for most of the year, father and daughter are still able to maintain close contact thanks to the wonders of modern technology. The 11-hour time difference between the west coast of the United States and Moscow means he and Mikeala have established a workable routine for talking regularly.
“We’re really big on FaceTime,” he smiles. “We try to talk every day. We’re on a schedule: she calls me from the car on her way to school, and I’ve finished practice by then. Some mornings it takes her longer to get ready so we don’t have as much time, but she’s pretty consistent!
“It’s difficult at the start of every season when I have to leave her, but I’m doing it for our family and she understands that it’s my job. It’s difficult, but it’s a sacrifice I have to make, and thanks to FaceTime at least I get to see her. I don’t know how guys did it back in the days before technology like that existed.”
Like many children of that age, young Mikeala is pretty tech-savvy and has found a way to give her daddy maximum attention when they talk.
“She knows how to use it all, she teaches me things about the phone! She’s worked out to put one of her headbands around the front seat in the car, and then she puts her iPad in there. It’s like a holster for the iPad, she goes hands-free!”
Thomas, 29, has spent his entire professional career living far away from his native San Diego, with spells in the NBA at San Antonio, Golden State, Chicago, Utah and Philadelphia coming along with half a season with Maccabi Tel Aviv – his previous EuroLeague experience – and time at Pirates de Quebradillas in Puerto Rico along with a year in China and now Khimki. So Mikeala has grown very accustomed to the idea of her father flying all over the world to ply his trade, and she has developed a healthy curiosity to probe her dad for information about all the exotic places he has visited – and Thomas hopes that trait stays with her for the rest of her life.
“She loves finding out about places, and she’s really good at doing research on her iPad,” he said. “I try to teach her some things I’ve learned, teach her a few words of the local languages. She loves me to tell her about wherever I go, especially if there’s a playground or a big park! I always try to take a picture and send it to her… She’s going to know more about the world than a lot of kids, and I hope it opens her eyes and she continues with that attitude when she’s an adult.”
Thomas tries to make sure that his daughter is also able to enjoy personal experiences of all the diverse places he has lived, with an annual trip – like her current stay in Moscow – featuring prominently in their schedule.
“She’s visited a lot of places I’ve been,” he laughed. “When I played in the States she came to Philly, Chicago, Utah, everywhere! She’s been all over and she loves telling her friends about her passport, all the different places she’s been… When I first came overseas to play for Maccabi, she went to Israel for three weeks. It was around our birthdays – mine is November 8th and hers is the 9th, so we try to make it happen to spend our birthdays together. The first place I took her in Tel Aviv was the beach! She’s like a fish, she loves the water, a real beach bum!
It’s a great credit to Thomas that he’s been able to maintain such a good relationship with his daughter despite spending most of the year thousands of kilometers from home, and he believes their long summers together are a major part in keeping them close.
“I go back to San Diego every summer and spend my time with her and my family,” he explained. “Once I get back we spend so much time together – it doesn’t really make up for everything but it helps… I’ve got an older sister who works with the Sixers in Philadelphia, another sister in Georgia, and my younger sister is in San Diego. All my sisters were able to come to San Diego last summer so it was a lot of fun. My mom’s there as well – I’m surrounded by women in my family!”
Thomas himself has also grown to enjoy his unusual globetrotting lifestyle, admitting: “At first, when I was younger, I found it difficult to move away from home. But I quickly became accustomed to it and now I enjoy seeing new places. I remember when I was with Maccabi my first EuroLeague trip was to Malaga, and I fell in love with that place! I thought it was beautiful. I’m enjoying seeing more new places again this year.”
And on the playing front, Thomas says he’s particularly keen to make up for lost time after missing most of the 2015-16 season through injury. “I was hurt most of that year,” he said. “So when I went to China last season, I was really excited to do that. Being off for a year, not through my choice, really changed my mindset and my approach to the game… I’m really excited about any new experience I can have.”
And as long as he can keep sharing those experiences with Mikeala, they’ll continue for a few more years yet.