Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas retired in 1994 with many accomplishments to his name.
Surprisingly, that list of feats didn’t include any Olympic medals. For everything Thomas achieved, he never once participated in the Olympics.
What kept the Detroit Pistons icon out of international play? Many believe his feud with Michael Jordan played a part, but Thomas recently revealed a boycott — which had nothing to do with Jordan — kept him out of his first potential Olympic Games.
Isiah Thomas is a Detroit Pistons legend
Younger basketball fans may only know Isiah Thomas from his coaching days, both with the New York Knicks and the FIU Panthers.
Even younger fans may only know Thomas from his broadcasting gigs with TNT and NBA TV.
Many, though, properly remember Thomas for his playing days on the Detroit Pistons. The 6-foot-1, 18-pound guard averaged 19.2 points, 9.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and just under two steals per game in 14 seasons.
A 12-time All-Star, Thomas increased his play to the next level in the postseason. Thomas averaged 20.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.5 boards, and 2.1 steals in 11 playoff games.
Detroit won two NBA Finals during Thomas’ career. He retired after the 1993-94 season because of an Achilles tendon injury.
Isiah Thomas never played in the Olympics
The world’s greatest basketball players, including those in the NBA, all teamed up at the Summer Olympics every four years.
Isiah Thomas never got that opportunity, though. His feuds with Michael Jordan and other star players kept him from joining the 1992 Dream Team.
Magic Johnson, the Dream Team’s point guard, has admitted on multiple occasions the group conspired to keep Thomas off the team.
When the Dream Team was discussed during ESPN’s The Last Dance, a docu-series that aired earlier this year, Jordan explained why Thomas didn’t make the team.
“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.”
However, Thomas still won a gold medal in international play when he participated at the 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico.
A Cold War boycott cost Thomas a chance to play in the Olympics
Over a decade before the Dream Team took their talents to Barcelona, Isiah Thomas made the U.S. Olympic team.
There was only one problem. Thomas made the 1980 team, one that didn’t travel to Moscow because of a boycott. Sixty-five countries, including the United States and Canada, didn’t travel or participate for political reasons.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Thomas reflected on missing out on the 1980 Summer Olympics. Thomas, then 19, said he cried when he learned the news.
“You know how competitive I am and how I want to win in somebody else’s building, on somebody else’s turf and territory. Hey, that’s right up my alley. From a competitive standpoint, I was ready to go in 1980. I was definitely ready, and we all wanted to go and win and compete.”
Thomas nonetheless earned a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. The United States honored the 461 Olympic athletes who missed an opportunity to compete in 1980, according to ESPN.