Even though it killed Jordan inside to shake hands with the Pistons, he knew he had to do it, which is why he will likely never forgive Isiah Thomas for what the Detroit legend did on May 27, 1991.
Michael Jordan: You have to pay your respects
The Bulls lost to the Pistons in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals, the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals, and the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. After each series, Jordan shook hands with the Detroit players even though it was painful.
“I shook [Detroit’s] hands when they beat us,” Jordan told SLAM Magazine in 1997. “I hated to do it, but out of sportsmanship, you have to pay your respects. And if someone beats us, I’ll do the same.”
Jordan and the Bulls finally got past the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago swept Detroit in four games to advance to the NBA Finals, and His Airness was presumably looking forward to shaking hands with Thomas and Co.
However, the Pistons displayed poor sportsmanship.
Pistons walked off the court
The Bulls beat the Pistons by 21 points in Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. With 7.9 seconds left in regulation, the Detroit players walked off the court and didn’t shake hands with the Bulls.
Thomas said in ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries that Bill Laimbeer organized the walk-out. He also admitted that it was common for players not to shake hands with their opponents during that era of basketball.
When The Last Dance director showed Jordan what Thomas said, Superman had a disgusted look on his face.
“All you gotta do is you go back to us losing in Game 7. I shook everybody’s hand. Two years in a row,” Jordan said. “We shook their hands when they beat us. There’s a certain respect to the game that we paid to them. That’s sportsmanship, no matter how much it hurts, and believe me, it f****** hurt. But they didn’t have to shake our hands. We knew we whooped their ass already. We’d gotten past them. To me, that was better than, in some ways, winning a championship.”
Jordan never faced the Pistons in the playoffs again after sweeping them. The Bulls went on to win six championships in an eight-year span after getting past Detroit, becoming one of the best dynasties in sports history.
However, the rivalry between Jordan and Thomas was far from over.
Michael Jordan played a role in Isiah Thomas not making Dream Team
Johnson and Thomas squashed their beef a few years ago on an NBA TV program. Don’t expect Jordan or Pippen to make up with Zeke, though. The Bulls legends will likely never respect the Hall of Famer for not shaking their hands and being part of the “Bad Boy” teams that fouled them hard.
Jordan called Thomas the second-best point guard in NBA history behind Johnson in The Last Dance. It was high praise from the six-time Finals MVP, but he also admitted that the Chicago native was an a**hole for not shaking his hand in 1991.