In the NBA of the late 1980s, the Bad Boys served as a bridge between the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers dominance and the rise of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Point guard Isiah Thomas led the Detroit Pistons. He was half of one of the greatest backcourt tandems in NBA history. While Joe Dumars came to Detroit with far less fanfare than Thomas, he was as vital to the Pistons’ success as anyone.
The two couldn’t have been much different. Thomas was a Chicago legend who went on to become an All-American and national champion at Indiana. Dumars hailed from Natchitoches, Louisiana, and played his college ball at McNeese State.
Joe Dumars became a star in his own right
Drafted by the Pistons with the 18th overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft, Joe Dumars didn’t wrest the starting shooting guard spot from veteran John Long until nearly the mid-point of the season. He was solid over the final 44 games as a starter, averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 assists in 30.6 minutes per game.
While the Pistons lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Atlanta Hawks, Dumars played well, shooting 61% from the floor while averaging 15.0 points and 6.3 dimes a night. Isiah Thomas put up 26.5 points and 12.0 helpers in the series.
He hit the national radar for the first time in the 1989 NBA Finals. Taking advantage of the ailing backcourt of the Lakers, Dumars decimated LA with 27.3 points and 6.0 assists per game in a four-game sweep. While capturing the franchise’s first championship, it was Dumars who captured NBA Finals MVP honors. Thomas had to wait until the repeat in 1990 to get a Finals MVP to call his.
Dumars admitted he was a bit starstruck by Isiah Thomas
Joe Dumars was one of the stars of the brief, controversial reign of the Bad Boys. During the Bad Boys documentary aired in 2014 by ESPN as part of its 30 for 30 series, he admitted that he never expected to play with Isiah Thomas.
He was an admirer of Thomas’ game, to be sure, per Mlive:
“When I was a freshman in college, I had a poster of Isiah Thomas in my dorm room, never dreaming in a million years I would play with him.”
Dumars and Thomas spent nine seasons as the starting backcourt for the Pistons. Thomas retired after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon late in the 1993–94 season. Their run included seven consecutive playoff berths from 1986–92, two championships, three trips to the NBA Finals, and a five-year run in the Eastern Conference Finals.
A six-time All-Star, Dumars played his entire career with Detroit, retiring after the 1998–99 season. He is the only Piston to play in more than 1,000 career games and remains the franchise’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 990.
An outstanding two-way player, Dumars also made five All-Defensive squads and entered the Hall of Fame in 2006. But the relationship between Dumars and the franchise remains distant these days.
Pistons and Joe Dumars are long-estranged
Joe Dumars transitioned from the court to the front office of the Pistons, becoming the team’s general manager in June 2000. He built the franchise’s third championship team in 2004, a squad that reached six consecutive conference finals from 2003–08.
But when the team fell on hard times, Dumars got the ax as team president in 2014. It’s led to a long separation between the club and one of its icons.
That’s not new for the Pistons, however. Isiah Thomas was on the outs with the franchise for years after he and the late Bill Davidson, who owned the club from 1974 until he died in 2009, had a falling out during the 1990s.
Per Mlive, Thomas came back to the franchise in 2017 to help it close the Palace of Auburn Hills before moving back to downtown Detroit. The thawing of relations between Thomas and the Pistons ironically roots in Dumars’ firing in 2014. Tom Gores, the current governor of the club, wanted to mend fences with Thomas.
Thomas had his eyes on a position in the front office, like roles he had with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks, as well as an ownership stake. He got neither, as it turns out, but he’s still on good terms with the club.
The Pistons should do what they can to repair things with Joe Dumars, as well. He went from having a poster of Isiah Thomas to being on one with him while leading the franchise to its greatest heights.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.