It Wasn’t Michael Jordan Who Kept Isiah Thomas Off the Dream Team
The Dream Team is arguably the greatest basketball team ever assembled. When it was decided that NBA players would be allowed to participate in the Olympics, a selection committee was formed and was given the task of putting together the team that would reclaim gold for the United States at the 1992 Summer Games after a disappointing bronze-medal finish in Seoul in 1988. The roster was stacked.
The initial members of the team were selected in September 1991 and featured some of the greatest players in history. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, and Chris Mullin were the first 10 chosen. In May 1992, Christian Laettner was chosen as the lone collegiate player on the roster, and one more NBA player was added when Clyde Drexler became the final member of the Dream Team. It’s impossible to please everyone and people brought up a number of omissions that could have made the squad. Dominique Wilkins was brought up. James Worthy was brought up. But the biggest snub seemed to be Isiah Thomas, a two-time NBA champion that was coming off his 11th consecutive All-Star appearance.
Given the bad blood between the two, it’s long been thought that Michael Jordan had something to do with Isiah Thomas being left off the roster. However, that story has finally been debunked.
Michael Jordan has long held a grudge with Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons
As everyone clearly saw during “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan clearly still holds a grudge with Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons. Jordan and the Chicago Bulls tried for years to dethrone the “Bad Boys” in the Eastern Conference and when they finally did in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals with a 4-0 sweep, Thomas and numerous Pistons players walked off the floor before the deciding game was over and didn’t shake hands with Jordan & Co. That’s long left a bitter taste in MJ’s mouth and he had zero problem taking shots at Isiah and Detroit during the ESPN docuseries. It probably doesn’t help that Isiah has changed his story numerous times over the years on how exactly that all played out.
It’s long been believed that Michael Jordan refused to play for the Dream Team if Isiah Thomas was on the roster
Michael Jordan actually wanted no part of the Dream Team in the beginning. He had become the biggest sports star on the planet and wanted to use the summer of 1992 to take a break. But some of his corporate sponsors and some of the other players, including Magic Johnson, eventually talked him into it. Detroit’s Chuck Daly was named as the head coach of Team USA, which led most to think that Isiah Thomas was a shoo-in for the roster.
However, once Zeke was snubbed, rumors began to fly that Jordan had told former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn, who had become the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and was the chairman of the committee that selected the Dream Team, that he would not participate if Isiah Thomas was on the roster. At least two books have supported this claim. Sam Smith’s “The Jordan Rules” quoted MJ as saying he didn’t play on teams with Isiah. Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team” specifically references Jordan’s meeting with Thorn with the quote “Rod, I don’t want to play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.”
But Rod Thorn has finally come out and shed some light on the matter.
Rod Thorn finally shuts down the rumors
After all these years, Rod Thorn has come clean about what went down in the meeting between himself and Michael Jordan in regards to Isiah Thomas being left off the Dream Team. Thorn appeared on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo” show and said that if MJ blocked Zeke from being on the roster, it’s news to him.
“My conversation with Michael was strictly about Michael, about Michael playing. Obviously, the committee was hopeful that Michael would play, because he was the No. 1 player in the league at that time and the No. 1 player in the world and the most popular player in the world at that time.
“But he didn’t say anything to me about [Thomas], and I certainly had no reason to bring it up either.
“There was never anything in my conversation with [Jordan] that had to do with Isiah Thomas, period. He said, ‘I’ll do it.’ … Isiah’s name never came up during that conversation. And he never backtracked and said he didn’t want to do it from that time on, to those of us in the NBA office.
“Now, if that in fact happened, then it happened with somebody else; because when I talked to him, he ended up saying he would definitely do it.”Rod Thorn on Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas
Thorn went on to say that a number of players were looked at during the selection process and Isiah Thomas simply didn’t make the cut. Thomas would end up being named to the Dream Team II roster in 1994 that won the gold at the FIBA World Championships but didn’t play due to an Achilles injury. He still feels slighted about not being on that original team, calling it one of the biggest disappointments of his career.
Magic Johnson later said in a book of his own that Isiah killed his own chances of playing at the 1992 Olympics because nobody wanted to play with him, not just Michael Jordan. Did Isiah Thomas deserve to be on the original Dream Team? Probably. But he wasn’t and we now know that Michael Jordan had nothing to do with it, unless he went over Rod Thorn’s head anyway.