The NBA may be stacked with talent now, but the league truly went through a golden era in the ’80s and ’90s. At the time, the league wasn’t as big, but it was just as competitive. The rivalries were also much more heated. Despite feel-good matchups like Bird vs. Magic, plenty of teams and players genuinely seemed to dislike each other.
One of the best rivalries involved the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. Two specific players, Isiah Thomas and Scottie Pippen, had an intense disdain for each other. When asked about it, Pippen has voiced exactly how he feels about Thomas. Here’s why Pippen said he “despised” how his opponent played basketball.
Isiah Thomas and Scottie Pippen’s NBA careers
They may not have gotten along, but one thing Thomas and Pippen had in common is that they were both truly great players. The Pistons selected Thomas with the second overall pick of the 1981 NBA Draft. Here are some of his career achievements:
- 19.2 points per game
- 9.3 assists per game
- 12-time All-Star
- Five-time All-NBA selection
- Two-time All-Star Game MVP
- Two-time NBA champion
- 1989-90 NBA Finals MVP
The Seattle Supersonics selected Pippen with the fifth overall pick in the 1987 draft. Then, the Sonics traded him to the Bulls, where he made history as the second-best player on one of the NBA’s greatest dynasties. Here are some of Pippen’s career achievements:
- 16.1 points per game
- 5.2 assists per game
- 6.4 rebounds per game
- Seven-time All-Star
- Seven-time All-NBA selection
- 1993-1994 All-Star Game MVP
- Six-time NBA champion
- 10-time NBA All-Defensive Team
The Pistons vs. Bulls rivalry
The Chicago Bulls became one of the best dynasties in NBA history with two three-peats for six championships in the ’90s. But before Jordan and Co. could ascend to the NBA’s promised land, one of the best squads of the ’80s, the Pistons, tested them. “The Bad Boys of Detroit” played an aggressive, rough-and-tumble style you couldn’t get away with today. They played hard and fouled harder.
The Pistons beat the Bulls in two consecutive Eastern Conference finals on their way to two championships in 1989 and 1990. In 1991, the Bulls finally got the last laugh, defeating Detroit before toppling the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. Michael Jordan denigrated the Pistons’ approach to the game:
“The dirty play and the flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct, hopefully that will be eliminated from the game with them gone. We don’t go out and try to hurt people and dirty up the game. You never lose respect for the champions. But I haven’t agreed with the methods they’ve used. I think people are happy the game will get back to a clean game.”
Why Pippen ‘despised’ how Thomas played basketball
While Jordan and Thomas famously didn’t get along, Pippen also didn’t care for Thomas. Jordan made it clear to Team USA basketball organizers that he did not want Thomas on the 1992 Dream Team Olympic squad.
Pippen echoed this sentiment in a 2012 documentary about the team: “I despised how he played the game … Isiah was the general, he was the guy who would yap at his teammates and say ‘Kick them on their a–. Do whatever you have to do.’ No, I didn’t want him on the Dream Team.”
Despite both being legendary players in their own right, it’s apparent the two didn’t get along. Pippen did everything in his power to keep Thomas off the Dream Team — an honor Thomas certainly earned through his play.