Michael Jordan-Isiah Thomas Beef Never Grows Old
Updated: Apr 29
Old wounds were reopened when The Last Dance highlighted the bad blood between Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons.
It’s been almost 30 years, yet it felt like yesterday for Jordan. When asked about the infamous walkout by the Bad Boys Pistons as time expired during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals was brought up, Jordan was livid.
Thomas, meanwhile, tried to justify the incident by referencing how Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics acted after losing the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals.
“Adrian Dantley was shooting a free throw, and the Boston Celtics were walking off during the game.” Thomas said. “I grabbed [Kevin] McHale, and then he stopped as he was walking off the floor. That’s how they left the floor. And to us, that was OK.”
“Knowing what we know now, and the aftermath of what took place, I think all of us would have stopped and said ‘Hey congratulations,’ like they do now. We would have did it, of course we would have done it. But during that period of time, that’s just not how it was passed. When you lost, you left the floor. That was it.”
But Jordan would have none of it. He dismissed Thomas as an a--hole.
“Well I know it’s all bulls---.” Jordan said bluntly. “Whatever [Thomas] says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He has time enough to think about it. Or the reaction of the public has kinda changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want, there's no way you can convince me he wasn't an a—hole.”
Jordan’s contempt for Thomas following the incident isn’t just good documentary fodder. It was widely speculated that it was also one of the reasons why Thomas did not make the 1992 Dream Team.
"Being left off the Dream Team, that personally hurt me," Thomas said during his appearance ESPN’s Get Up on Monday.
"When the Dream Team was selected and I wasn't a part of it, there was a lot of controversy around it, and I still don't know who did it or why they say I didn't make it. I know the criteria for making the team, I fit all the criteria,” he added.
The Dream Team snub was a big black eye on Thomas despite having a stellar career that netted him two championships, a Finals MVP, 12 All-Star appearances, two All-Star MVP and three All-NBA First Team selection.
"That's a big hole on my [basketball] resume," Thomas said. "That is the biggest hole in my resume. In the sports arena, I've won at every level. I tried to do everything correctly, and I thought I should've made that Dream Team. And looking back, if I'm not a part of the Dream Team because a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone's hand, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then."
Clearly, there was no love lost between the central figures of the Bulls-Pistons rivalry.
MJ’s disdain for Thomas and the Bad Boys was born out of both emotional and physical pain. The Jordan Rules, the three postseason losses to the Pistons prior to that sweep were his motivation to beat them. And when he finally overcame those mental and physical tortures, he felt disrespected by the walkout.
On the other hand, Thomas’ gripe against Jordan was born out of pride.
John Salley, who played with Thomas in Detroit during the Bad Boys era and would later play with Jordan during the Bulls historic 72-10 season in 1995-96, made a shocking revelation on how Thomas’ competitive fire against Jordan was lit up.
“Isiah goes home, and his nephew is wearing a Bulls jersey, a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey. He said, ‘Hey, what you doing?’ ‘We in Chicago. That’s my team.’ It’s his nephew. He was not really understanding that the great Isiah Thomas plays for Detroit, we don’t wear that. We wear this. ‘But I’m from Chicago. I’m down with the Bull movement.’ Isiah was mad at that. Not to Michael, personally. In his brain, ‘Every time I play against this dude, I’m gonna try to go off so my nephew sees this is the jersey you should wear.’ Never at Michael.”
How petty the fight may seem, when you’ve got two of the greatest competitors, bruised ego just couldn’t let go.