The Last Dance episodes 3 & 4 were broadcast on ESPN last night revealing the cantankerous relationship between Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas.
The two Hall of Famers were in their prime during the ’90s and gunning for one another. However, whereas Jordan portrays himself as the consummate competitor with a conscience, Thomas is not.
The Detroit Pistons had something called “The Jordan Rules” which were employed to stop Jordan’s on court dominance. From intentional hard fouls to triple teaming him, the would not allow him “to take flight.”
This worked well when the “Bad Boys” of Detroit neutralized Jordan during the NBA Conference Finals. The Pistons eliminated the Bulls in both the 1989 and 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. However, once Jordan figured out how to combat their defense and defeated the Pistons, they showed bad form.
It was already personal but it turned disrespectful.
After sweeping the Pistons in the 1991 conference finals, with 7.9 seconds in Game 4, nearly the entire Detroit squad (except for John Salley and Chuck Daly) walked off the court. They strolled right past Chicago’s bench, rather than sticking around to shake hands and congratulate the Bulls after the game and series had ended.
“That was the only time that I think I’d ever been swept in a series. I was normally the one doing the sweeping,” Thomas said. “Their time had arrived, and ours was over. As we’re coming out of the game, Laimbeer said: ‘We’re not shaking their hands.’
“Knowing what we now now, in the aftermath of what took place, I think all of us would’ve stopped and said congratulations like they do now. But in that period of time, that’s just not how it was passed. When you lost you left the floor. That was it.”
However, Jordan is still not buying Thomas’ excuse.
“I know it’s all bullshit,” Jordan said. “Whatever [Isaiah] says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. [He’s had] time enough to think about it, or the reaction of the public that’s changed his perspective. … You can show me anything you want. There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t asshole.
“All you have to do is go back to us losing in Game 7 [the previous year],” Jordan continued. “I shook everybody’s hand. Two years in a row, we shook their hands when they beat us. There’s a certain respect to the game, that we paid to them. That’s sportsmanship. No matter how much it hurts, and believe me it f—–g hurt. But we didn’t have to shake their hands. We knew we whipped their ass already. We got past them. And to me, that was better in some ways than winning the championship.”
The rivalry is still real and The Last Dance is providing so much brevity to a golden age in basketball we all remember.