Skip to main content

During the 1980s, there were few basketball players better than Isiah Thomas. During his time with the Detroit Pistons, the guard seemed like he could do it all; scoring, passing, and defending all came with equal ease. Despite that success, however, Thomas wasn’t a member of the famous 1992 Dream Team.

While the snub was understandably painful, time has a way of changing one’s perspective on things. In fact, Thomas now acknowledges a silver lining to the fact that he failed to make the Olympic roster.

Isiah Thomas’ dominant career

Growing up in high school, Isiah Thomas quickly made a name for himself on the basketball court. While some doubted that the guard could succeed, due to his height, he blossomed into a top college recruit.

Thomas headed to the University of Indiana to play under head coach Bob Knight. While the two had some early clashes, the guard eventually bought into the Hoosiers’ culture. After a solid freshman season, Thomas entered his sophomore campaign as the team’s captain; he would lead Indiana to a National Championship, claiming the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award in the process.

On the back of that success, Thomas entered the 1981 NBA draft. The Detroit Pistons selected him second overall, and the guard immediately made the league’s All-Rookie Team. While it took a few years for the club to find success, they eventually made it to the promised land; the “Bad Boys” won back-to-back NBA titles, and Isiah was at the center of it all.

Thomas played 13 seasons in the pros, appearing in 12 All-Star games. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 assists per outing, earning himself a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Missing out on the Dream Team

In 1980, Isiah Thomas was a member of the United States basketball team that boycotted the Moscow Olympics. 12 years later, however, he didn’t make the cut for the Dream Team.

While the Pistons guard had plenty of on-court talent, his personality apparently cost him a place on the roster.

“Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics. Nobody on that team wanted to play with him,” Magic Johnson explained in When The Game Was Ours, which he co-wrote with Larry Bird and Jackie MacMillan. “Michael [Jordan] didn’t want to play with him. Scottie [Pippen] wanted no part of him. Bird wasn’t pushing for him. Karl Malone didn’t want him. Who was saying, ‘We need this guy?’ Nobody.”

Isiah Thomas now sees a silver lining to missing the cut for the Dream Team

At the time, Isiah Thomas was understandably disappointed not to be representing his country at the Olympics. Over time, however, he’s gained a new perspective on the snub.

Although he didn’t get a chance to claim a gold medal, Thomas is glad that Magic Johnson was able to have his moment in the sun. Following his HIV diagnosis, the Lakers guard’s life was turned upside down. At the Olympics, however, he was able to strut his stuff on the global stage; during those games, he was still Magic, as if nothing had changed.

“That moment for Magic Johnson, being on that stage with that flag around him, you know, not only did we need that, he needed that,” Thomas explained on the Knuckleheads podcast. “And I look back at that, and I say hey, you know, I was happy that the basketball gods said ‘Isiah, let Magic have this stage instead of you.’ During that period of time, [I] probably couldn’t think that way but, now that I’m older, I can look back and say, ‘that was the right move.”

“Magic Johnson on that stage,” Thomas concluded, “for the HIV community, and basketball, and everything else, his acceptance, his life, was more important than Isiah Thomas being on that stage.”