In the ESPN docuseries The Last Dance, Michael Jordan took the opportunity to speak about some of the unanswered questions from his career—the theory that he left the Bulls in 1993 because of gambling and his perspective on teammate Scottie Pippin, to name a few. But there is definitely truth to the rumor that he and Isiah Thomas, who played for the Detroit Pistons, did and do not get along. That rivalry is so strong that it seems just as relevant, and potent, today. As you'll see, Jordan had some...thoughts...about Thomas, who has since responded publicly. Here's what we know at this point.
Jordan had choice words for Thomas in The Last Dance.
So, for context, Jordan called Thomas an "asshole" in the series. The Pistons (including Thomas) walked off the court when they lost the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals—without shaking the Bulls' hands, as is customary and considered a sign of good sportsmanship. Jordan reviewed comments Thomas made about the incident, and replied, "You can show me anything you want. It's no way you can convince me he wasn't an asshole."
Thomas took to ESPN to respond:
To summarize, he said this.
"In terms of how we felt at that particular time as champions, we were coming down, Michael Jordan was coming up...And I've said this a many of times: Looking back over the years, had we had the opportunity to do it all over again, I think all of us would make a different decision. Now, me, myself, personally, I paid a heavy price for that decision. And in paying that price, you know, I understand that this is the sports world and everything else, but at the same time looking back over in terms of how we felt at that particular time, our emotional state and how we exited the floor, we actually gave the world the opportunity to look at us in a way that we never really tried to position ourselves in or project ourselves in that way. So it's unfortunate that it happened, but that's just how it was during that period of time."
That "price" Thomas refers to is not being selected for the Olympics, saying that he was "more disappointed today" about not being able to play.
"Being left off the Dream Team, that personally hurt me. In 1980, I was on the Olympic team. As a matter of fact, I was voted the Male Athlete of the Year in 1980 for the USA Olympic Team. And, you know, the only thing missing from my resume is not being on the Dream Team. Now, 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 selection of making the team, I had fit all the criteria. And that's a big hole in my resume, that's the biggest hole in my resume. That is the only place, and that's the only thing in my resume that I did not succeed at."
But, Jordan denies he kept Thomas off the 1992 Olympics team.
In the 2012 documentary The Dream Team, Jordan said, "That was one of the stipulations put to me that Isiah wasn't part of the team...I was getting strong innuendos it wasn't just...it was coming from a higher place who didn't want Isiah on the team."
In The Last Dance, he denied rumors that it was he who demanded Thomas be left off. But, he admitted, "The Dream Team, based on the environment and the camaraderie that happened on that team, it was the best harmony. Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes."
He also made this particularly revealing quote: "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, I respect his game."
Obviously it's a compliment...but then there's that word "hate" casually thrown in there. Thomas actually responded to that too in The Detroit News.
"I'm really surprised that he has that kind of hate and anger," he said. "I’ve never experienced that being around him. My son was wearing Michael Jordan jerseys and shoes. They have Jordan jerseys on from the Olympics and the Bulls jerseys that I bought for them."
WATCH 'THE LAST DANCE' ON ESPN+
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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.
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