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Isiah Thomas regrets it, Laimbeer does not: Pistons refusal to shake hands sparks 30-year-old controversy

1988 NBA Finals Game 5: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JUNE 16: Isiah Thomas #11, Joe Dumars #4 and Bill Laimbeer #40 of the Detroit Pistons sit on the bench during Game Five of the 1988 NBA Finals on June 16, 1988 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1988 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

In today’s NBA, the vibe is different. There is a “we’re all in a fraternity” feel among players, many of whom have known each other since AAU and other high school events. Guys don’t make plays that could injure another player, and after the game everybody shakes hands and moves on.

The Bad Boy Pistons were not that way.

The two-time champions were eliminated from the playoffs by Jordan’s Bulls in the 1991 playoffs, and they walked off the court without shaking hands. It sparked controversy then and, thanks to The Last Dance documentary, that controversy sparked again on Monday.

Isiah Thomas, the Pistons’ leading scorer, said in the documentary he looked back with regret.

“We were coming down, Michael Jordan was coming up, and in coming up, you have certain emotions; and in coming down as champions, you have certain emotions... 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.”

Thirty years later, Jordan was having none of it.

“Whatever [Thomas] says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He’s had time to think about it. Or, the reaction of the public, that’s kind of 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******.”

Bill Laimbeer has no such regrets. The Pistons big man called the Bulls “whiners” and said this to Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s The Jump.

“Why would I regret it now today? I don’t care what the media says about me. I never did. If I did, I’d be a basket case, especially back then. I was about winning basketball games and winning championships and did whatever I had to do to get the most out of my ability and our team — and we did. At the end of the day, we’re called world champions.”

Being all about winning championships, being about getting the most out of yourself, is not mutually exclusive with handling losses with some grace and dignity. You can play all out, be frustrated with a loss, and still shake the winner’s hand. To not do so speaks more about the person than the situation.

The Pistons then — and clearly some of them now — felt walking off the court was in line with the “bad boy” nature of the team. If so, it’s good the game and players have evolved from that.