Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas were stalwarts of the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s who turned into bitter rivals by the end of their career. The two former NBA Champions shared the Central division in the NBA, with Michael Jordan playing for the Chicago Bulls and Isiah Thomas for the Pistons. In the late 80s and early 90s, the Bulls ad Pistons started challenging for the NBA title, and that’s where the rivalry started.
Isiah Thomas led a Detroit Pistons unit known as the ‘Bad Boy Pistons’ due to their aggressive playstyle and defense-oriented game. Thomas led the Pistons to three straight NBA finals from 1988-1990 and beat Michael Jordan’s Bulls every year. Jordan still dominated them the first year; after that, the Pistons invented the infamous ‘ Jordan Rules. This essentially fouled and physically defeated Jordan every time he entered the paint.
However, Thomas and Jordan never had beef over how they beat the Bulls; the whole beef started when they first lost to the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. After three years of heartbreak, the Bulls swept the defending champion Pistons in 1991 to make their first-ever NBA Finals. As Game 4 ended in a blowout, Isiah Thomas led his team to walk off the floor before the buzzer went off without shaking the Chicago Bulls player’s hands. Jordan saw this as a petty move on Isaiah Thomas’ part and mentioned in ‘The Last Dance’ documentary that he respects him as a player but not a person. This beef in 1991 spiraled into the 1990s as Thomas’ career faded away and Jordan took over the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. However, The 1992 Olympics was the defining moment of this beef.
Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas’ beef continued during the 1992 Olympics
During the 1992 Olympics, the NBA finally allowed professional athletes to represent the United States in the Olympics, as they had only allowed college students prior. This meant superstars such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and a host of others would all feature on the same team. Jordan represented the face of the NBA, while Thomas was perceived as the ‘villain’ of the league due to his ‘bad boy’ reputation with Detroit.
While Thomas was a perennial all-star and a former Finals MVP, he still did not get selected to join his peers on the team that traveled to Barcelona for the Olympics. Thomas accused Michael Jordan of making sure Isiah was not on the team as he felt there was a personal vendetta against him. Jordan talks about this in ‘The Last Dance’ documentary and claims that he was not the only one who had problems with Isiah and did not want him out of the team, claiming the mood around the team would have been different.
What makes Thomas’ case even stronger is that the coach of the 1992 Dream Team was Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly, who naturally was a huge fan of Isiah Thomas. After the documentary airing, the 2x NBA Champion spoke about the incident in 2020 and said, “It seemed like there was only one person who had a problem with it and that was Jordan.” Isiah Thomas also called Jordan an a**hole in a 2022 interview which shows that this beef is still simmering even 30 years later.
Undergraduate Psychology student. Lifelong RCB fan and an NBA content writer. I am also Co-Host of The Gully Scorecard podcast where you can hear me rant about my favorite sports teams. Watching LeBron and KD hoop is my favorite pastime.
FirstSportz is the First Stop for all sports fanatics. Starting in 2019, we initially covered Olympic Sports, but in 2021 we added every other sport which you might be looking for, like NFL, Golf, MLB, WWE Cricket, Football, Tennis, Esports, NBA, MMA and more.