The Bulls-Pistons rivalry of the late 1980s and early 1990s was chronicled in Episodes 3 and 4 of “The Last Dance” — specifically, tensions that linger between Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan.
Back in the day, Thomas and Jordan’s beef came to a head after the 1991 Eastern Conference finals, when the Bulls seized the Eastern Conference mantle with a four-game sweep of the Pistons. Upon defeat, many of the Pistons, including Thomas, famously walked off their home floor without shaking hands with the Bulls.
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“During that period of time, [shaking hands is] just not how it (the torch) was passed,” Thomas said, referencing the Celtics not shaking the Pistons’ hands when they toppled Larry Bird and company in the mid-1980s. “When you lost, you left the floor.”
Jordan’s response to that was vehement (“There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a**hole”), which stoked conspiratorial fires related to the theory that Thomas was left off the 1992 USA Olympic "Dream Team" squad because of bad blood with Jordan.
Isaiah Thomas: "If I'm not apart of the Dream Team because of a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone's hand, if that's the reason why I didn't make the Dream Team, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then when I wasn't selected." pic.twitter.com/5QQk3kmX0g— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 27, 2020
But former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn, who drafted Jordan in 1984 and chaired the USA Basketball Men's National Team Selection Committee in 1992, said in a recent appearance on ESPN’s “Golic & Wingo” that Thomas never came up in discussions with Jordan.
In fact, Thorn said he was pretty much singularly concerned with getting Jordan to participate in the Games, off-court drama aside.
“When I called Jordan, his first inclination was he didn’t know if he wanted to play or not because, as he said, ‘I played on an Olympic team before (in 1988),’” Thorn said. “'It’s for the younger guys as far as I’m concerned.'
“So we continued the conversation, and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘You know something, I’ll do it.’ There was never anything in my conversation with him that had to do with Isiah Thomas. Period.”
Thorn acknowledged that Thomas’ name was on a “long list of players” that the selection committee looked at recruiting for the ’92 team, but they ended up going a different direction.
Thomas, then 30, was entering the late stage of his career (he retired after an achilles injury ended his age-32 season in 1993-94), but was coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 18.5 points, 7.2 assists and 1.5 steals. As a two-time NBA champion (with one Finals MVP) and 11-time All-Star at the time, he is certainly classifiable as a snub from the greatest Olympic team ever assembled.
According to Thorn’s version of events, his and Jordan’s history didn’t play any role in that snub. Of course, it’s always possible that Jordan went another route to ensure Thomas’ exclusion from the team.
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