Unraveling the Roots of Michael Jordan's Longstanding Feud with Isiah Thomas

Exploring the Deep-Seated Rivalry in NBA's Golden Era.

by Zain ul Abedin
Unraveling the Roots of Michael Jordan's Longstanding Feud with Isiah Thomas
© Mark Thompson/Getty Images

"Michael Jordan's Unforgiving Disdain for Isiah Thomas: A Rivalry That Refuses to Fade" In the realm of the NBA, where time often softens old rivalries and heals wounds, some feuds remain stubbornly resistant to reconciliation.

Among these, the enduring animosity between basketball legend Michael Jordan and Detroit Pistons icon Isiah Thomas stands out, continuing to capture the attention of basketball enthusiasts and analysts alike. Jordan's deep-seated aversion towards Thomas was vividly portrayed in the Netflix documentary 'The Last Dance', which chronicled Jordan's illustrious career with the Chicago Bulls.

The series not only spotlighted Jordan's unparalleled prowess on the court but also delved into his personal sentiments, particularly his distaste for the 'Bad Boy' Pistons of Detroit and their leader, Isiah Thomas. Jordan's blunt assessment of Thomas in the documentary leaves no room for ambiguity, underscoring the intensity of his feelings.

Michael Jordan© Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images

This rivalry, however, is not a product of the 1990s but has roots stretching back to the mid-1980s. The genesis of this discord can be traced to 1985, a pivotal year when Jordan began ascending as the NBA's rising star, drawing the ire of established players like Thomas, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird.

The 1985 All-Star Game, where Jordan, a rookie, shared the court with Thomas and Johnson, marks a significant chapter in this saga. Jordan's limited involvement in the game, taking just nine shots, sparked rumors of a deliberate 'freeze-out' orchestrated by Thomas.

While Thomas has consistently denied these allegations, the perception of a snub has persisted. Brad Sellers, a former Chicago Bulls guard, suggested that Thomas' actions were driven by a territorial sentiment, feeling threatened by Jordan's rapid emergence as Chicago's basketball sensation.

The rivalry intensified in the late 1980s, culminating in the heated Conference Finals clashes between Jordan's Bulls and Thomas's Pistons. During this period, the Pistons employed the notorious 'Jordan Rules' – a strategy designed to intimidate and restrain Jordan physically.

This approach, which included aggressive tactics like knocking Jordan to the ground during airborne plays, successfully secured championships for the Pistons in 1989 and 1990. Still, it also fueled Jordan's growing resentment.

Jordan's bitterness towards Thomas and the Pistons was further evident in the 1991 playoffs, where the Bulls decisively defeated the Pistons. The Pistons' controversial decision to walk off the court without shaking hands, with seconds remaining on the clock, only deepened Jordan's dislike, a sentiment he admits persists to this day.

This animosity even spilled over to the international stage during the 1992 Olympics. Jordan's reported insistence on Thomas's exclusion from the 'Dream Team' highlights the breadth of Thomas's unpopularity among his peers, as Jordan was not the only team member opposed to Thomas's presence.

Today, decades removed from their on-court battles, the frosty relationship between Jordan and Thomas remains a topic of intrigue. While many feuds from that era have since thawed, the chill between these two basketball titans shows no signs of warming, a testament to the intensity and complexity of their historic rivalry.

Michael Jordan