The Chicago Bulls selected Michael Jordan with the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft and watched him immediately turn the organization around. The UNC product had no issues adjusting to the pro game and established himself as a superstar during his rookie season.
Jordan was so spectacular in 1984-85 that Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas couldn’t believe what he saw from the Bulls guard on a nightly basis. Even though Jordan and Thomas aren’t friends and had an intense rivalry during their playing days, the latter never shied away from praising the former.
Isiah Thomas on Michael Jordan’s rookie season: “It just didn’t seem real”
In Episode 1 of The Last Dance docuseries, Thomas talked about how incredible Jordan’s rookie season was. Despite playing on the Pistons, Zeke knew what was happening in Chicago since he was born and raised in the Windy City and had plenty of family members in his ear about some youngster named Jordan.
“It was like he had like an extra levitation gear or something,” Thomas said. “It just didn’t seem real.”
Jordan and the Bulls faced Thomas and the Pistons six times in 1984-85. The season series was tied at 3-3, with MJ averaging 29.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists and Thomas putting up 21.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 10.5 assists per game.
Jordan undoubtedly had one of the best rookie seasons in NBA history. He not only played in all 82 games, but His Airness also guided the Bulls to the playoffs for the first time since 1981.
Michael Jordan was stellar as a rookie
Jordan averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 steals as a rookie. He shot 51.5% from the field and 84.5% from the free-throw line en route to winning the Rookie of the Year Award over Hakeem Olajuwon.
Behind Jordan, the Bulls won 38 games in 1984-85 and faced the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 1985 playoffs. Black Jesus averaged 29.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists against the Bucks, but the Bulls lost the series in four quick games.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ Pistons fell to the Boston Celtics in the 1985 Eastern Conference semifinals. Detroit and Chicago didn’t play each other in the playoffs until the 1988 postseason. The Pistons beat the Bulls in the second round and followed that up with back-to-back wins over their Central Division rivals in the conference finals in 1989 and 1990 while winning two straight championships.
Thomas and the Pistons had Jordan and the Bulls’ number. However, things changed in the 1991 playoffs.
MJ swept Isiah Thomas
The Bulls and Pistons met for the fourth straight postseason in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago not only swept Detroit in four games to advance to the NBA Finals, but Jordan and Co. also beat the “Bad Boys” so severely that the Pistons walked off the court before Game 4 ended and didn’t shake hands with the Bulls.
Jordan went on to lead the Bulls to six championships in the ’90s. He went 6-0 in the Finals and won all six Finals MVPs. Meanwhile, Thomas finished his career with two titles and one Finals MVP.
Both Jordan and Thomas are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. However, they will likely never be friends after the Pistons’ walk-out in 1991.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.