The feud between Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas remains one of the fiercest and longest running in NBA history.
The two basketball greats have been at odds since the late 80s and early 90s, and they make no secret that the hatred between them still burns today. Rarely do we see a conflict between athletes and superstars of such stature that continues so long after their careers are over.
In some unforgettable times for the NBA, their teams Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons meet year after year in the playoffs, and the saga between Air and Isaiah makes the matches even more attractive for the audience.
Thomas has more than one reason to hate his colleague, the main one being that he didn’t make the USA Dream Team for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics – because Michael personally didn’t want him on the team.
“Either me or him,” MJ snaps then, and when Jordan himself says something like that, he obviously doesn’t leave much of a choice for coaches and managers.
But let’s ride in a row. When sports rivalry turns into interpersonal hatred?
Jordan’s status as the greatest in basketball history and as a man obsessed with winning is well known.
But during his early years in the league, a star on the court was the ever-smiling Detroit guard Isaiah Thomas – who rose to the game after a rough childhood in the ghettos of Chicago.
Thomas spent his entire career with the Pistons, winning two NBA titles, as well as a bunch of individual awards, a place in the Hall of Fame and the status of a Detroit legend.
Namely, the Pistons, then known as the “bad boys” of the NBA, proved to be the main obstacle to Chicago and Jordan, eliminating the Bulls in the playoffs three years in a row.
However, as far as is known, the two squared off in the All-Star Game in 1985. Then the Airmen reached the All-Star Game for the first time and appeared on the court as part of the Eastern Conference team.
Jordan reveals that in that meeting he felt isolated from the others, as if his teammates did not pass him on purpose, and Isaiah Thomas ignored him the most.
The guard denies this and calls Michael a liar.
Then came three consecutive titanic clashes in which the Pistons ended the Chicago Bulls’ path to the title. Finally, in 1991, it was time for a rematch, and Chicago and Jordan triumphed over the great rival in the East.
Then Isaiah Thomas and the rest of Detroit’s stars, unable to accept the loss with dignity, walked off the court 7.9 seconds before the final buzzer. Naturally, without congratulating the opponents.
Jordan and Scottie Pippen watch in disgust as the Pistons run away before the end of the game. The moment is clearly a turning point – the time has come for the Bulls to win a series of titles (six in eight years), while for Detroit the glory era is coming to an end.
The “bad guys” must step aside and make way for their heirs to the throne.
The following year, the USA Dream Team brings together the greatest players of that generation for the Barcelona Olympics.
The incredible line-up led by Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird crushes everyone in their path and takes the gold medals. And arguably the biggest absentee from the team is Isaiah Thomas, the second-best point guard of that era behind Magic Johnson.
Jordan claims that Isaiah wasn’t called up because others in the lineup couldn’t stand him either. But to this day, Thomas blames MJ for depriving him of an Olympic gold medal.
With new comments in recent days, the Detroit legend reignited the feud and explained that it will continue until he receives an apology from Jordan.
The comments were sparked by the popular documentary series about the Airman’s life, The Last Dance, which also drew backlash from other former teammates and rivals in the NBA.
Thomas, 61, was not thrilled with the way he was portrayed in the series, to say the least.
“I sat and watched it with my family and everything was fine. But then this guy comes on the screen and explains that he hates me and then he calls me an asshole. And I’m watching a whole documentary where he’s the asshole,” said Thomas .
“So I’m like, wait now. Until I get a public apology, this feud is going to continue for a very long time — because I’m from the west side of Chicago.”
— Pat McAfee Show Quotes (@PatMcAfeequotes) May 4, 2020
In the ten episodes of The Last Dance, Jordan shows some unsavory character traits, and other great players like Scottie Pippen are outraged by the disregard he shows for the people who helped him in all his accomplishments.
The movie about the Airman can’t help but dwell on the battles between the Bulls and the Pistons – in which the Detroit players apply special tactics against the rival star, deploying their entire arsenal of dirty tricks and not letting him breathe to limit his effectiveness.
Jordan explains that he used the Pistons’ approach as motivation to get stronger, grow and change some things in his game. Later, Michael also commented on the exclusion of Isaiah Thomas from the national team for the Olympics.
According to him, Thomas had already shown a lack of sportsmanship when he walked off the court against the Bulls a year earlier, and his presence would have soured relationships within the US squad.
“The Dream Team was based on the atmosphere and camaraderie of the lineup, there was the best possible harmony. Would Isaiah change the atmosphere on that team? Yes,” explains Jordan.
The then Olympic Committee, which selected the athletes for the Olympic Games, continue to claim that they made the decision for Thomas without discussing it with Michael Jordan.
But the very fact that these explanations and discussions continue 30 years later is indicative of the ferocity of the feud.
Isaiah Thomas admits he’s still hurt by what happened three decades ago.
“I tried to do everything right and I thought I deserved to be included in the Dream Team. I don’t know what happened to make the decision. I met the criteria to be included, but I wasn’t.”
“I was left out and that hurt me. And going back, if I was left out of the team because of an emotional mistake and because I didn’t shake someone’s hand, if that’s why I’m not on the Dream Team, then today I’m even more disappointed than then”.
So the pain remains, and with it the hostile feelings between the two great athletes with such severe and implacable characters.