This is the beef that never ends.
Isiah Thomas has sparked a fire amid his longstanding feud with rival Michael Jordan in recent comments lamenting Jordan’s portrayal of Thomas on ESPN documentary The Last Dance. Thomas made his comments while speaking to Greece’s Cosmote TV, which owns the country’s NBA broadcasting rights.
“When I saw ‘The Last Dance’ I sit and watch it with my family and I think everything’s fine,” Thomas said, per EuroHoops. “And then this guy comes on TV and says he hates me, and then he calls me an asshole.
“And then I watch a whole documentary about him being an asshole. I’m like wait a minute time out Until I get a public apology, this beef is going to go on for a long, long time because I’m from the west side of Chicago.”
“This guy” is Jordan. This basketball vendetta dates back to the late ’80s and early ’90s. The year is 2022 and neither party has backed down. Thomas even promoted his latest comments on Twitter.
The comments Thomas is objecting to come from Jordan’s testimony on The Last Dance, a series that aired more than two years ago from April to May 2020. The rivalry between Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Thomas’ Detroit Pistons was a central part of the series’ history.
In it, Thomas addressed a flashpoint in their relationship when the Pistons walked off the field without shaking hands after the Bulls defeated them in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons had beaten the Bulls in the last two conference finals en route to the NBA championships.
Jordan took the snub as a sign of disrespect and has harbored a grudge against Thomas in the decades since. He criticized Thomas during his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech. He famously froze Thomas at the 1992 Dream Team Olympics.
Thomas simply explained the walkoff during “The Last Dance” as part of basketball culture at the time, dating back to Detroit’s previous playoff series with Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics.
“If we knew what we know now and the aftermath of what happened, we would all have stopped and said ‘hey congratulations,’ like they are doing now,” Thomas said. “We would have done it, of course we would have done it. But in that time it just wasn’t passed on that way.
“When you lost, you left the ground. That was it.”
Jordan wasn’t interested in Thomas’s explanation when a producer prompted him to comment on The Last Dance. And yes, he called Thomas an “asshole”.
“Well I know it’s all cops***,” Jordan said. “Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his real actions back then. He has enough time to think about it. Or the public’s reaction has somehow changed their perspective on it. You can show me anything you want, there’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an asshole.
Jordan’s argument that Thomas “changed his perspective” on the subject is valid. The story of Thomas has evolved over the years. Here’s what Thomas said months after the walkoff, which he called “unsportsmanlike” and “the wrong thing” back in November 1991.
“They beat us hard,” Thomas said. “Back then we were mad, we were upset. If I sit here now and say that we didn’t really mean it that way, that would be a lie, because that’s what we meant at the time.
“Was it unsportsmanlike? Yes. Was it the wrong thing? Yes. But is that how we felt at the time? Yes, it was a very emotional reaction. For me to sit here and now to say that we really did. That is I didn’t mean it that way, we didn’t feel that way, that would be a lie.”
In 2013, Thomas revisited the issue, saying that Jordan and Phil Jackson’s comments during a press conference inspired the walkoff.
“Before the Bulls swept us in 1991, I remember Jordan and Phil Jackson clearly because they swept us in Detroit, they would rant for a day and a half about how bad we were for the game, how bad we were people, like [Bill] Laimbeer was a thug. In our city. They were 3-0 up and then they had this press conference that totally disregarded us as champions.
“They kept sweeping us and the decision was made to just walk away… It was made on the bench as the game came to an end.”
None of this taunts the walkoff with simply being part of early ’90s basketball culture. All of this aligns with Jordan using Thomas as competitive fuel for years.
Does the situation justify Thomas being left out of the Dream Team? Of course not. Not only was Thomas one of the greatest Wardens of his time, he was one of the best of all time. His absence from the definitive and legendary USA Basketball Olympic team was glaring. And it was thanks to Jordan that he didn’t want him there.
Hence the reciprocating “a**hole” barbs.
At the time of this post, there was no response from Jordan.