1787, a Wonderful Year
Fame conferred on Thomas privileges as well as troubles. As a celebrity, he was allowed to mingle with other celebrities, the most important to him being professional sports heroes. The Dallas Cowboys were a special focus of his affections. He came to know the team's owner, Jerry Jones, who showered him with blessings: a Super Bowl ring, permission to roam on the Cowboys' practice field while wearing a Cowboys jersey, a seat in his luxury box high atop Robert F. Kennedy Stadium when the Cowboys came to Washington to play the archrival Redskins.
Basketball was another prime interest. In December 1994, when superstar forward Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns traveled to D.C. to play the Washington Bullets, Barkley spent four hours with Thomas at the Supreme Court, a visit arranged by Armstrong Williams. Each man gave of himself: The two played basketball on the "highest court in the land," but also talked politics. Barkley was, like Thomas, a political iconoclast—a black, self-described Republican who at the time was considering a future run for governor of his home state of Alabama. "I think I'm smart, but I was learning on the go talking with him," Barkley said of the visit. "He's achieved true greatness." Thomas's basketball skills were another matter. "He thinks he can play," Barkley said wryly. In a later conversation with his friend Dick Weiler back in Missouri, Thomas complained of referee bias in professional basketball: "As good as Michael Jordan is, he doesn't need any help from the referees."
Life was full of such unfairness, a fact that Thomas knew better than most people. Two clouds, in particular, still hung over him at the time. One was the growing, stereotypical assumption that he was a mere follower, or even "clone," of Scalia. (Black commentator Carl Rowan first used the term in a syndicated column in July 1993.) A year later, a front