Even though they were fierce rivals during their playing careers, Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas had respect for each other’s games. The two Hall of Famers had several battles when the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons played each other in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it was a bloodbath whenever the two central division rivals met.
Jordan admitted in the Last Dance docuseries that he hates Thomas. However, that wasn’t always the case.
Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas had a friendly relationship up until the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals
Jordan and Thomas had a friendly relationship at the beginning of MJ’s career. They were teammates in the All-Star Game a few times and sat next to each other on the bench on occasion.
However, everything changed for Jordan after what happened in Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. After the Bulls swept the Pistons, Thomas and the Detroit players walked off the court in the game’s final seconds.
Ever since that moment, Jordan has hated Thomas. In episode 4 of the Last Dance, he said the Pistons legend acted like an “a**hole” during the walk-off.
Some believe Jordan always despised Thomas since there’s a theory the Pistons icon was a conspirator to freeze him out during the 1985 All-Star Game. While that may be true, MJ always respected Thomas’ basketball talent, which is why he was surprised the point guard made a colossal mistake in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.
Michael Jordan was shocked by Isiah Thomas’ blunder
In Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Pistons, Thomas made a mistake for the ages. With Boston down by a point and Detroit in possession of the ball with five seconds left, Thomas carelessly inbounded the ball, and it was stolen by Larry Bird.
After intercepting Thomas’ pass, Bird somehow found Dennis Johnson, who laid the ball in with one second remaining. The Celtics won by a final score of 108-107 and eventually won the series in seven games.
During the ’87 conference finals, Jordan did an interview with Bryant Gumbel, and he was asked about Thomas’ error. The Bulls superstar, just like the rest of the country, was shocked by the play.
“Well, it shows that Isiah is human,” Jordan said. “He really tried to get it in quick and get it to Laimbeer. When you’re in a situation like that, the coach always tells you to throw it away from the opponent’s basket, and during the hype of the game, you can easily forget. But it’s shocking that Isiah forgot to think of that.”
After defeating the Pistons, the Celtics met the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. Behind Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers won the series in six games.
Will MJ ever forgive Zeke for the walk-off?
Thomas said he’s open to sitting down with Jordan and ending their beef. However, knowing how stubborn Jordan is, he probably has zero interest in talking with Zeke.
Interestingly, Jordan mentioned Thomas during his memorable Hall of Fame speech in 2009. He talked about the rumored freeze-out game and thanked the guys who were reportedly involved for motivating him.
Thomas may have gone 3-1 against Jordan in the playoffs, but His Airness ended up with six titles, six Finals MVPs, and five regular-season MVPs.