The Truth About Michael Jordan And Isiah Thomas' Feud

ESPN's The Last Dance documentary primarily follows Michael Jordan's career with the Chicago Bulls, but it's not a one-sided project. Even Jordan's rival, Detroit Pistons alum Isiah Thomas, has appeared in multiple episodes to share his take on their decades-long feud. In particular, the series documented the playoff rivalry between the two east coast teams. After three seasons of losing, the Bulls finally beat the Pistons in 1991. After the game, the Pistons walked off the court instead of shaking hands with the victors. During the documentary, Jordan remarked, "I hated them. That hate carries over even to this day," according to USA Today

During the documentary, Thomas said, "Knowing what we know now, in the aftermath of what took place, I think all of us would've stopped and said, 'Hey, congratulations,' like they do now." It seemed like Thomas took the time to reflect on the error of his ways. However, Jordan wasn't buying it. He responded, "I know it's all bulls**t. What he 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 has changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want, there's no way you can convince me he wasn't an asshole."

Isiah Thomas is rumored to have sabotaged Michael Jordan's first All-Star Game

There doesn't seem to be a singular source of contention between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas. However, a lot of people theorize that Thomas conspired to freeze Jordan out, making sure he didn't get the ball, during the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. After joining the Chicago Bulls the year before, Jordan managed to earn a starting spot on the team. However, it was far from his best performance. Jordan only scored seven points, per NBC Sports. Meanwhile, Thomas scored 22 points, according to ESPN.

Thomas publicly denied the alleged freeze out in 2003 after his son asked him about it privately when he was writing a report for school. The NBA reported that Thomas insisted, "That never happened.'" Thomas remarked, "Now, it's written in books and people just assume that it's fact. I remember saying then and I say it now, 'If someone would get the tape and watch, I defy them to find spots where we as teammates deliberately decided not to give Michael Jordan the ball."

Even so, things definitely got rough on the court during the regular season. In The Last Dance, the Detroit Pistons acknowledged that they followed "Jordan Rules," which were a different set of tactics specifically aimed at taking down MJ. Pistons alum John Salley shared (via The Undefeated), "As soon as he steps in the paint, hit him" was a part of the strategy. Thomas admitted, "We had to do everything from a physical standpoint to stop him."

Isiah Thomas was mad his nephew wore a Michael Jordan jersey

Former Bulls player Brad Sellers told The Undefeated, "We all heard about what happened at the All-Star Game, but the bigger issue was that Isiah [Thomas] was from Chicago, he worked to be one of the top players to represent that city, and Mike [Jordan] came in and eviscerated that." Detroit Pistons alum John Salley added to the narrative that Thomas' Chicago roots played a major role in the animosity between the two players, but for a more personal reason.

Salley told VladTV, "Isiah goes home, and his nephew is wearing a Bulls jersey, Michael Jordan Bulls jersey. He said, 'Hey, what you doing?' 'We in Chicago. That's my team.' It's his nephew. He was not really understanding that the great Isiah Thomas plays for Detroit, 'We don't wear that. We wear this.'" Salley concluded, "Isiah was mad at that. Not to Michael, personally. In his brain, 'Every time I play against this dude, I'm gonna try to go off so my nephew sees this is the jersey you should wear.' Never at Michael."

Interestingly enough, Thomas told The Detroit News in May 2020, "My son was wearing Michael Jordan jerseys and shoes. They have Jordan jerseys on from the Olympics and the Bulls jerseys that I bought for them."

Fans believe Michael Jordan shut Isiah Thomas out of the Olympic team

In 1992, the United States assembled the Dream Team to represent the country at the Olympics. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Scottie Pippen were among the team's members. Isiah Thomas was notably excluded, which is something that many people blamed on Jordan. 

Jordan recalled asking who was on the team, insisting that he never mentioned anything about his rival or implied that he shouldn't be included. Still, during the documentary, he did comment (via USA Today), "The Dream Team, based on the environment and the camaraderie that happened on that team, it was the best harmony. Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes." The documentary also suggested that Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, and other Dream Team players had issues with Thomas.

Thomas addressed the snub during an appearance on ESPN's Get UpSports Illustrated reported that he said, "Now, when the Dream Team was selected and I wasn't a part of it, there was a lot of controversy around it. And I still don't know who did it or why they say I didn't make it. He maintained, "I know the criteria for selection of making the team, I had fit all the criteria. And that's a big hole in my resume, that's the biggest hole in my resume."

Clearly, there are many points of contention between Jordan and Thomas. Maybe they should just talk things out directly... for another documentary, of course.