Michael Jordan’s feud with Isiah Thomas has become legendary. So too, the long-standing conspiracy theory that the Chicago Bulls legend was the reason why the Pistons great was sensationally left off the USA’s famous 1992 Dream Team.
In the latest instalment of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the docu-series once again focused on the beef between the two NBA greats.
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The third night of “The Last Dance” hit on plenty of topics, but one that needed no introduction was Jordan’s relationship with the Pistons great.
Jordan was open with his hatred for Thomas in episode four of the series, and that came up again in episode five.
Specifically, it was Thomas infamously being left off the USA’s famed 1992 Dream Team for the Barcelona Olympic Games.
By that stage, Thomas was a two-time NBA champion with the Pistons and regarded by Jordan as the second best point guard he’d ever seen, after Magic Johnson.
Yet, there was no place for Thomas on what is widely regarded as one of the greatest sports teams ever assembled.
Thomas spoke about the disappointment of his Dream Team snub last week on ESPN, and this episode tried to provide an explanation for how a Hall of Famer that led the Pistons to two NBA championships didn’t make basketball’s greatest team.
It has long been believed that Jordan — who again, has been open with his opinion of Thomas as a person — played a hand in Thomas’ exclusion, but Jordan denied that role on the show.
“You want to attribute it to me, go ahead and be my guest. But it wasn’t me,” Jordan said.
When it came to Thomas’ play, Jordan was actually complimentary (in his standard backhanded way).
“I respect Isiah Thomas’ talent. To me, the best point guard of all-time is Magic Johnson. And right behind him is Isiah Thomas. No matter how much I hate him. And I respect his game."- Michael Jordan #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/sX1xhzVGhW— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) May 4, 2020
However, Jordan didn’t deny that Thomas’ personality, not his resume, kept the guard off the team.
As Jordan told it, several players — including Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird — had enough problems with Thomas that it would hurt team chemistry.
“The Dream Team, based on the environment and the camaraderie that happened on that team, it was the best harmony,” Jordan said.
“Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes.”
Rod Thorn, one of the primary architects of the Dream Team, gave a similar recounting earlier this week.
As for Thomas, he didn’t bother speculating beyond noting he had the resume.
When your friends get on a zoom call and nobody hits you uppic.twitter.com/KsYjeFVMNC— Madelyn Burke (@MadelynBurke) May 4, 2020
Jordan’s fierce rival only rates him fourth best
Thomas last week sparked controversy after describing Jordan - regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time - as only the fourth best star the Pistons legend had played against.
“When you put Jordan and his basketball team in the ’80s, they weren’t a very successful team,” he says. “They just weren’t. When you talk about Jordan and his team dominating, they dominated the ’90s. But when you put him with those Lakers teams and those Pistons teams and those Celtics teams, they all beat him. They just did.
“What separated Jordan from all of us was he was the first one to three-peat. But he didn’t three-peat against Magic, Larry and Dr. J.”
Thomas won the first of his two titles at age 27 in 1989. Detroit’s playoff rotation featured two other future Hall of Famers and two more multiple-time All-Stars.
Jordan won the first of his six titles at age 27 in 1991, sweeping a 29-year-old Thomas’ Pistons and winning a five-game Finals series against a 31-year-old Johnson’s Lakers in the process. That Jordan’s best Bulls teams never faced the best of Erving’s 76ers, Bird’s Celtics and Johnson’s Lakers is a matter of timing, not definitive evidence that one player was greater than the other.
However, Thomas offered this of the best five players he competed against, in order:
For the record, Bird called Jordan “the finest athlete he’d ever witnessed or opposed” as early as 1985, and Johnson declared Jordan “the best ever” by 1993.