Detroit Pistons fans were likely happy when Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan retired in 1993 since they no longer had to watch their favorite team go up against His Airness. However, arguably the best player in Pistons franchise history was sad to see Jordan leave.
Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas, who wasn’t friends with Jordan and had countless battles with the shooting guard, admitted he would miss MJ. It was a surprising quote since the two superstars had an intense rivalry.
Isiah Thomas on Michael Jordan: I’m going to miss him
When Jordan retired in October 1993, Thomas was one of the handful of players to comment on the move. The Pistons legend said he would miss competing against the UNC product and hoped to see him at games.
“I am definitely going to miss him,” Thomas said, via Chicago sports historian Jack M Silverstein. “He said that he would be coming to watch some games this year. I hope he comes when the Bulls play the Pistons.”
Jordan and Thomas were never close buddies in the NBA. After all, how could they be? The Bulls and Pistons were in the same division, and Thomas was part of the “Bad Boys,” the team that tried to hurt Jordan physically.
However, it’s easy to forget that Jordan and Thomas’ sour relationship began during the 1985 All-Star Game.
Isiah Thomas supposedly played a role in the Michael Jordan Freezeout Game
Thomas, Magic Johnson, and George Gervin supposedly came up with a secret plan to embarrass Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game. George Andrews, a Chicago lawyer who repped Thomas and Johnson during their playing days, said in 2017 that the older guys on the Eastern Conference All-Star team were upset at Jordan because he was promoting Nike by wearing Nike warmups.
However, Andrews firmly believes that Jordan wasn’t frozen out even though the Bulls guard shot just 2-of-9 in the game.
“Michael wore his Nike warmups in violation of the NBA protocol,” Andrews told Sam Smith. “He was promoting Nike. So the veteran guys got upset, saying, ‘Who the heck is this rookie; he’s not acting the way he should.’ And so on. No question they were mad at him, and it wasn’t just my guys. Then what happened is Isiah and Magic said, ‘Let’s just guard each other and not really play defense on each other.’ Because if you remember when they were against one another in the All-Star games, they were good games, competitive but entertaining. They knew how to run those types of games with the fast break and passing and still keep it real basketball and exciting. So they say, ‘Let’s see what Michael can do with Gervin,’ who still was pretty good. Michael didn’t do much, something like two for nine. But nine shots; so he wasn’t frozen out. He got nine shots in an All-Star game as a rookie. Isiah had seven when he was a rookie and shot an airball.”
In ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries, Jordan admitted that he views Thomas as the second-best point guard in NBA history behind Johnson. However, the six-time champion also revealed that he hates the Chicago native.
MJ on Zeke: I hate him
Thomas and the Pistons didn’t shake hands with Jordan and the Bulls when they got swept in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. From that point on, it’s widely assumed that Superman hated Zeke even though he respected his talent.
“I respect Isiah Thomas’ talent,” Jordan said in The Last Dance. “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.”
Jordan called Thomas an a**hole for walking off the court in 1991. However, he always talked glowingly about his basketball game despite not being fond of him, and the feeling was mutual for the point guard.