NBA Stars Who Can't Stand Isiah Thomas

ESPN's Last Dance docuseries, which premiered on Netflix in April 2020, covers the career of Michael Jordan and the controversies that plagued the NBA's Chicago Bulls during the 1997–98 season. The 10-part series also explores any lingering questions fans might have about the basketball dynasty, including the mystery surrounding Isiah Thomas' exclusion from the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team." The controversy was looked into in Episode 5 of The Last Dance, giving viewers insight into why Thomas, a then-point guard for the Detroit Pistons, didn't join fellow NBA stars, like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, to list a few names, in securing the 1992 Summer Olympics gold medal. "I don't know what went into that process," Thomas said about the apparent snub, per ESPN. "I met the criteria to be selected, but I wasn't."

Although Thomas seemed to downplay the incident, there has long been speculation that Jordan and the other NBA players conspired to leave him out. This is because Thomas wasn't the most well-liked athlete at the time, a sentiment that has long overshadowed his impressive career.  

So who has had beef with Isiah Thomas? We take a look back at his most notable feuds below.

Michael Jordan hasn't buried the hatchet

Considering many years have passed since Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas played in the NBA, one might think their feud has simmered down. The truth? Jordan still feels bitter toward Thomas, as he revealed during The Last Dance. But before we get to the drama, let's rehash what caused this epic fallout. For starters, a playoff rivalry existed between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons, with the latter winning three seasons in a row. When the Bulls finally beat the Pistons in 1991, the team walked off the court instead of shaking hands with the victors. During the documentary, Jordan quipped, "I hated them. That hate carries over even to this day." 

There "was also the lingering issue that Thomas reportedly tried to 'freezeout' Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game," NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt pointed out for USA TODAY.

But arguably the biggest point of contention in the athletes' relationship is whether Jordan purposely got Thomas excluded from the 1992 Olympics. "You want to attribute it to me, go ahead, and be my guest," Jordan said during The Last Dance about his involvement, per ABC News. "But it wasn't me." 

The Chicago Bulls alum concluded, "I respect Isiah Thomas' talent. 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."

Scottie Pippen 'despised' this about Isiah Thomas

Not only did Michael Jordan dislike Isiah Thomas, but so did his fellow teammate, Scottie Pippen. The NBA legend confirmed this in a 2012 documentary about the "Dream Team," sharing, per The Bleacher Report, "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.'" He added, "No, I didn't want him on the Dream Team."

This echoed Pippen's comments in 1991 when he said, per The Chicago Sun-Times, "If they name Isiah to the team, then I will get off it," Pippen said. "I won't play with him because there's too much bad blood between us. He's a phony. He wears that little sneaky grin of his just to fool people."

As for Thomas, not being selected for the "Dream Team" still bothers him to this day. "... I tried to do everything correctly, and I thought I should've made the Dream Team," he said in an interview with ESPN's Get Up (CBS Sports). "However, I wasn't a part of it. That hurt me. And looking back, if I'm not a part of the Dream Team because, you know, a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone's hand, if that's the reason why I didn't make the Dream Team, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then when I wasn't selected."

Magic Johnson and Isiah ended their feud

Although Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are clearly done with Isiah Thomas, this isn't the case for Los Angeles Lakers alum, Magic Johnson. The two squashed their beef in 2017, after a long-held rivalry, which was partly inspired by Johnson's claim that Thomas spread rumors about his sexuality once his HIV diagnosis was made public in 1991. This was especially hurtful to Johnson, as the two were good friends in the '80s. However, Thomas denied he was the one who spread the gossip.

The bad blood intensified when Johnson was against Thomas joining the "Dream Team." The athlete recalled in his book, When the Game Was Ours, "Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics. Nobody on that team wanted to play with him. ... I'm sad for Isiah. He has alienated so many people in his life, and he still doesn't get it." Johnson added, "He doesn't understand why he wasn't chosen for that Olympic team and that's really too bad. You should be aware when you've ticked off more than half of the NBA."

However, both athletes were able to overcome their differences during an emotional sit-down for NBA TV. "You are my brother," Johnson told Thomas. "Let me apologize to you if I hurt you—that we haven't been together. God is good to bring us back together." 

Hugging each other while they cried, the two squashed their beef once and for all.