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While it’s easy to think that they share a unique bond, NBA players are like any other set of coworkers. Some will get along and develop friendships, while others fail to see eye-to-eye. Ever since The Last Dance aired, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan have fallen into the latter category. Things have been largely one-sided — MJ rarely makes public statements, leaving Zeke to throw most of the metaphorical jabs — but it seems like there’s some level of discontent.

There’s one place, however, where Thomas can’t shade Jordan: winning.

During the 2023 NBA Finals, Isiah was asked how much success he would have had if he played alongside, rather than against, His Airness. While that might have seemed like the perfect opportunity for a bit more trash talk, the former Detroit Piston seemed rather enthusiastic about the hypothetical partnership.

Let’s check it out.

Despite his trash talk, Isiah Thomas doesn’t seem to have a problem with (hypothetically) joining forces with Michael Jordan

In modern NBA history, Michael Jordan sits atop the trash-talking power ranking. His Airness was happy to engage in verbal warfare with just about anyone and, by and large, could back up anything he said. In retirement, though, Isiah Thomas has been the one throwing shade MJ’s way.

As mentioned above, everything seemed to start with The Last Dance, which Isiah felt portrayed him in a less-than-ideal light. After that, the former Piston seemed intent on arguing that Jordan wasn’t the GOAT at any opportunity and called him out when possible.

That willingness, however, seemed to have reached its limit during the 2023 NBA Finals. After Game 4, the NBA TV panel engaged in a discussion about how Zeke would fare if he played with, rather than against, Jordan. At that moment, there was no shade to be seen.

“We would have won a lot, and we’d probably still be playing now. Trying to be somebody,” Thomas explained with a laugh. “No, we’d have won a lot. … During that period of time, you know, we would have won a lot. You know? He won six, I won two, so eight. Yeah, we’d have won eight, eight or nine.”

While you can take issues with Isiah’s thought process — the entire landscape of the NBA would have been different if he and Jordan were teammates, meaning you can’t really add their two totals and call it a day — there’s no question about the sentiment. He wasn’t poking MJ, throwing shade, or suggesting that he would have won more championships with someone else.

When it comes to winning, there really isn’t anything bad you can say about His Airness.

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If you want to be cynical, you could point at Isiah Thomas’ comments as evidence of selfishness and/or lack of conviction. It’s apparently easy to trash-talk Michael Jordan in isolation but harder when your success is being connected to his.

That’s not where I want to go, though. Instead, I’d like to focus on Jordan and how we collectively view winning as sports fans.

While Isiah is probably being a bit petty, it’s not unthinkable to criticize His Airness. Jordan wasn’t a perfect character. He could be something of a jerk, talking trash to anyone in earshot, cheating at meaningless games in an attempt to prove his superiority, and even punching his own teammates.

So, why are we willing to overlook those parts of his legacy and tolerate them as a part of his overall narrative? Because he won and, in sports, that’s really all that matters.

To be clear, this isn’t a ground-breaking argument. We’ve even seen it play out before with His Airness. Scottie Pippen, even in the midst of his scorched-earth media tour, seemed more than happy about the idea of taking the court with Jordan. Winning, it seems, is such a powerful prize that anything can be pushed aside to team up with someone who will help you claim the top spot.

The same can be said for fans. If a player helps the team win, many flaws — ranging from the benign to the truly problematic — can be overlooked. Once the losses start piling up, though, it’s easier to return to a higher moral ground and decide that things aren’t worth the headache.

Changing that reality, however, is easier said than done. Even if we can logically know that there’s more to life and sports than winning, everyone wants to claim the top prize. Fandom only further complicates things; imagine telling a long-suffering fan that their team shouldn’t pursue their first chance at a title in 50 years.

In the meantime, though, the best course of action is probably simply being aware of those (usually) unconscious thought processes. And whenever you need a reminder, just look at Michael Jordan.

Was MJ the best teammate? Not really, but you’d still take him on your team any day. Isiah Thomas and Scottie Pippen can back that up.