The rivalry between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas seemingly got more intense after The Last Dance docuseries came out in 2020. The Chicago Bulls legend called the Detroit Pistons icon an “a–hole” for walking off the court in Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals and admitted that he hated the 12-time All-Star while discussing the famous Dream Team snub.
Thomas shockingly revealed that he didn’t know Jordan despised him so much until he watched The Last Dance. Since the docuseries came out, the Chicago native has called LeBron James the GOAT over Jordan, which could be his way of retaliating against the six-time champion.
Even though it seems like Jordan and Thomas may never be friends, the all-time-great point guard has never had a problem talking about how special His Airness was on the basketball court.
Isiah Thomas: We said before games that Michael Jordan wouldn’t get 50 on us, but he did
In March 2020, Thomas was a guest on the Knuckleheads podcast with Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson. During a discussion about the Bad Boy Pistons and how he and Joe Dumars were a lethal backcourt duo on both sides of the floor, Thomas talked about how he and Broadway Joe would tell each other that Jordan wouldn’t score 50 on them, but the Bulls superstar did it anyway.
“And by the way, if one of us was in trouble defensively, then we would come and help,” Thomas said. “It’s like we used to always say, ‘OK, we ain’t gonna let Jordan get 50 on you,’ but he did (laughs). But at least we had the mentality that, ‘OK, I’m coming to help.’ Now, when I get over there, I may not be able to do nothing, but at least when you turned around, and he scored on you, you looking at your teammate saying, ‘OK, I ain’t by myself.’ He scored 50 on us.”
Jordan may have put up stellar individual numbers against the Pistons. However, Thomas and Co. had MJ’s number in the playoffs.
Isiah Thomas and Pistons went 3-1 against Michael Jordan and Bulls in playoffs
Jordan and the Bulls faced Thomas and the Pistons in the playoffs for four consecutive years in 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Detroit went 3-1 against Chicago and won two titles during that span.
The Pistons defeated the Bulls 4-1 in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals. Jordan averaged 27.4 points in the five-game series, but Thomas, Adrian Dantley, and Dumars proved too much for the high-flier to handle.
Chicago and Detroit met again in the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan put up 29.7 points per game and hit the game-winning shot over Dennis Rodman in Game 3 to give the Bulls a 2-1 lead in the series. However, the Pistons captured three straight wins and won the series in six games.
In Phil Jackson‘s first year as the Bulls’ head coach, he led Chicago to the conference finals in 1990. Neither the Bulls nor the Pistons won a game on the road. Jordan averaged 32.1 points in the series, but Thomas got the last laugh by leading his group to a Game 7 win at the Palace of Auburn Hills. MJ said in Episode 4 of The Last Dance that he cried on the team bus because he was so close to beating his archnemesis and reaching his first Finals.
The pain of losing to the Pistons for three straight years in the playoffs motivated Jordan and his teammates to work on their bodies in the summer of 1990. The Bulls came back stronger, both mentally and physically, in 1990-91 and racked up the best record in the East. They had home-court advantage in the postseason, and that came in handy versus the Pistons in the conference finals.
Behind Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the Bulls demolished the Pistons in the ’91 Eastern Conference Finals. They swept Detroit and advanced to the first NBA Finals in franchise history. Jordan averaged 29.8 points, while Pippen put up 22.0 points per game.
Thomas and the Pistons didn’t shake the Bulls’ hands and walked off the court before the final buzzer sounded in Game 4. It is widely believed that Jordan lost all respect for Thomas as a person at that moment despite recognizing his talents on the basketball court.
His Airness called Zeke the second-best PG in NBA history
In Episode 5 of The Last Dance, Jordan called Thomas the second-best point guard in NBA history behind Magic Johnson. However, the five-time MVP also said he hated him.
“I respect Isiah Thomas’ talent,” Jordan said. “To me, the best point guard of all time is Magic Johnson, and right behind him is Isiah Thomas. No matter how much I hate him, I respect his game.”
Thomas didn’t get selected for the 1992 Dream Team. Along with Jordan and Pippen, Magic supposedly didn’t want the Pistons guard on the squad either.
“At that point, Magic and Isiah had their thing. (Larry) Bird and Isiah had their thing, and Scottie,” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said in Episode 5. “That’s half the team. They did not want to play with him. Everybody puts it on Michael because we knew that dislike was out in the open. But there was a lot more to it than that.”
Magic and Thomas squashed their beef on an NBA TV show in 2017. Both legends shared an emotional moment of reconciliation after deciding to leave their past behind them following years of having a deteriorated relationship. It’s highly doubtful Jordan and Thomas, though, will ever share a moment like that.