Published on May 11th, 2019 | by Landon Buford1
Isiah Thomas Talks Cheurlin Champagne, Partnership With Both The NBPA, THINK450 & More
Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas was born on Chicago’s West Side. His professional career now spans over three decades in business, sports, and entertainment. After announcing his retirement from the NBA in 1994, he became part owner and Executive Vice President for the expansion Toronto Raptors. He would remain with the organization until deciding to leave in 1998.
Upon Thomas leaving his post with the Raptors, he transitioned into the broadcasting booth at NBC as an NBA analyst alongside Doug Collins and Bob Costas.
Also in 1998, Thomas became the owner of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), which was a basketball development league. During his time as the owner of the league, Thomas would land several partnerships with SEASONTICKET.com, where fans could watch live game webcasts, use live shot charts, chat with players and more. He also founded Isiah.com, a company that serviced consumers, retailers, and corporations with online gift certificates and other E-commerce products. It would later partner with the NBA store.
The CBA would fold in 2001, but it gave former NBA Commissioner David Stern the blueprint to start his own development league, the NBDL. Today the development is called the G-league. In the early 2000s, Thomas took several coaching and front office positions with the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks until 2008.
Eight years later, Thomas would announce that he was the exclusive United States importer of the Cheurlin Champagne brand through his Isiah Imports a company that is a subsidiary of ISIAH International, LLC. The company would make its debut in the US at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Other events include a private luncheon honoring former President Bill Clinton and at The Palace of Auburn Hills before the Pistons moved into their new area opened in 2017.
Isiah Thomas started his partnership with Thomas Cheurlin because he was in search of great-tasting champagne minus all the sugar that their competition offered. Cheurlin according to Isaiah Thomas concentrates on the soil, topography, and climate, which sets them apart from their competition. The Cheurlin family has been in the champagne industry since 1778. Isaiah Imports top brands are Cheurlin’s Brut Speciale, and Rose de Saignee, and Cheurlin Thomas’ “Celebrite” Blanc de Blanc and “Le Champion” Blanc de Noir.
We recently had the opportunity to speak to the Basketball Hall of Famer about what sparked his interest in champagne. Also, his recent partnership with the NBPA, THINK450, and his thoughts on the 2019 playoffs thus far.
Isiah Imports has been in business for a couple of years now, and you are partnered with Thomas Cheurlin. What was it about his character and business savvy that told you this the right fit for you?
So, when I first met Thomas and the Cheurlin family, who has been making Champagne since 1778. The family goes back centuries in the Champagne space, and Thomas is the maker of all our Cheurlin products. What really attracted me to Thomas and the family is their love and appreciation for their craft. The way they care for the land, understood the soil in the sun, and the only products that we use in our champagne are the sun, soil, and grapes. There is no sugar added to our top brand the Celebrite and the LaChampion. I wanted to make sure when we came back to the United States, that we brought real low sugar champagne that people could try.
Most of the champagne that is available here in the United States are filled with high sugar and sulfite. So, subsequently, most people here in the states get a headache or become ill when they drink it. So, we wanted a champagne that was low in both sugar and sulfite that will allow people to enjoy the product without the after-effects of drinking the product.
You recently partnered with the NBPA and THINK450 for a business partnership, that you will be announcing in Chicago next week. Why did you feel this was a perfect match for your brand?
As a former president of the players union, there are 450 players in the NBA. Most of our players are influencers not only in fashion, but also in sports, entertainment, and I could not think of a better partner to have then the 450 players, who are currently in the NBA and not only drinking but representing our products. With them being influencers that can reach various audiences through marketing and branding, I couldn’t think of any better partners then the NBPA and THINK450.
Cheurlin Champagnes is now featured in nine states, Illinois, Michigan, New York, California, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Do you plan to expand into other states within the next couple of years?
We are growing a very rapid pace right now and yes; we do plan on expanding; thus, the partnership with the NBPA, and there are 30 cites that the NBA operates in. We want to follow the 30 for 30 model in every NBA City. We plan on having not just exclusive marketing, and sales campaigns that happen in those cities, but also expand around the world. Our champagnes are sold in three countries, but soon to be five. We are in the United States, France, soon to be in Portugal, Canada, and Belgium. So, we are expanding rapidly, and when looking at the NBA players in our reach right now, it is global. You can go online right now and order from our website, and it is delivered from cheurlin.com. We have an international reach that delivers our products to anywhere in the United States and all around the world.
Where does your love for Champagne come from?
That has been a fascinating journey for me. My first introduction into the champagne space was pouring it over my head after winning championships. Once I was done playing there was a search for ways to continuing to stay healthy. I did not want to drink a lot of products that contained a lot of sugar. So, unfortunately, you are still worried about keeping your calorie intake down, and it led me to the champagne space. What I wanted to find was a product that was low in calories, sugar, and sulfite, but I could not find one.
So, that then led me on the path to find one but to make one. We then asked Thomas Cheurlin could he make one that was low in calories and sugar. He fought me for a very long time because he said the Americans pallet craves sugar and would never drink real low sugar champagne, or a no sugar champagne. I told him I didn’t think most Americans have been given the choice of low sugar or no sugar champagne. So, I wanted to create one and bring it back, and it has really taken off, and we have won numerous awards. I have won Champagne Producer of the Year the past two years, and I couldn’t be more excited about things that have happened thus far.
That has led me into the champagne space because I wanted to make a change in the industry the way the food industry has shifted. Ten years ago, some started asking questions about what was in the food, and it prompted the food industry to comply with letting us know the exact ingredients and how many calories were in each product. My job in the champagne industry is to start asking questions about what you are drinking and the process of the grapes in those products before you consume them. We have the only 100 percent Pinot Noir in the United States that I know of and if someone finds another okay there are two.
The only Rosé de Saignée champagne in the United States that I have seen is the one we bring over. Again, if you find a couple more, please let me know, and all grapes come from our own vineyard in Celles-Sur-Ource. We also only use three main grape varietals Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc. This is were Thomas shows off his abilities to make champagne as he blends the grapes perfectly to create the best champagnes that I have tasted.
From a Founder and CEO perspective, how have you been able to use millennials towards your business success?
The story I just told you really came from the millennials because they are the one that started asking questions. The questions of what is in our food, how many calories are in the food I’m eating. It has forced every food chain such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and everyone to start changing the ways they eat. These same individuals are asking questions in other industries as well. Now, we have the answers in the champagne industry, but I can’t speak for other space. However, in our industry, the reason why we are so popular is when customers are looking for low sugar, low sulfite, and no headaches from a bottle of champagne they think of Thomas Cheurlin & Isiah Thomas champagne.
You own several companies in numerous entities how often do current, and former athletes approach you for business advice instead of basketball advice?
I was the first NBA player on the cover of Forbes in 1994, and I became part owner & Co-Founder of the Toronto Raptors. Since that day I get more questions about business than I do about basketball. Now, I get a little bit of both in every conversation, but every day I get asked about the business. The partnership that we formed with the union lets you know what the players feel about what we do in business, and basketball.
If you had to vote for this year’s MVP, who would be your pick and why?
From the regular season, I thought Harden had another great season, and he did things that another hasn’t done in a while. Giannis also had a great regular season, but from a winning standpoint, I always go with the winner. This is not a knock on the season that Harden had, but what Giannis did from a winning standpoint to me he would get my vote. It would only be by a very slim margin because you can make an argument for of them and they could be Co-MVPs, but if I had to pick just one, I would have to give it to Giannis this year.
How much does Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum remind you of Joe Dumars and yourself in today’s NBA?
Both those guys are so good, and I love watching them. The enjoyment that I get out of watching Dame and C.J. and the enjoyment I get out of watching Steph and Klay. If Joe and I provided people that much joy when they watched us play, then I am honored and happy that we were able to do that. Every time I watch those two guys play, I am amazed by what they are doing out on the floor and what they did out on the floor. Just look at the shoot that Dame made over Paul George two of the most dramatic shots I have seen in the playoffs. One Dame Lillard was standing there at half court knocking down the three and waving goodbye. You are talking about dramatic, poetic, and just beautiful, and the second one came from Allen Iverson. In the 2001 NBA Finals when he crossed over Ty Lue in the corner made the three and stepped over him. With me being a little guy, I admire what the little guys do. Those two shots are the most dramatic shots that I enjoyed from a style, artistic, and gamesmanship standpoint. So, when you talk about Dame and C.J., they are beautiful to watch, and Joe and I honored to be compared to those guys.
Do think the Warriors close out the Rockets tonight in Houston?
To me the champion is the champion and when they are wounded others really step up and play their best. I believe Klay and Steph will really play well tonight. I think it will be a close game, but there is so much pressure on the Rockets to win tonight. Harden and Paul are really going to have to play great to beat Golden State. So, believe it or not, Golden State is the underdog tonight. So, I am going with the underdog.
Do you see Carmelo Anthony playing in the NBA next season?
I hope so because Carmelo Anthony is one of my favorite people. He has been nothing but class, and professional every time I have had any interaction with him. If he still wants to play, I hope he has the opportunity to play for some team. Also, I hope he can and will contribute.