Isiah Thomas Reveals He'd Shake Michael Jordan's Hand If He Could Redo His Career

Decades-old NBA feud revisited in recent documentary series.

by Nouman Rasool
Isiah Thomas Reveals He'd Shake Michael Jordan's Hand If He Could Redo His Career
© Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Isiah Thomas, probably the most famous point guard for the Detroit Pistons, looked back at his NBA career and said he would change one big thing: not shaking hands with Michael Jordan during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals.

The moment when the Pistons left the court, not allowing themselves to be defeated by the Chicago Bulls, is one of those moments in NBA history that has been more slandered upon, remaining very much quoted as an epitome of poor sportsmanship.

It only served to fuel an already intense rivalry between the two teams and loomed large over Thomas’s outstanding professional hockey career. During interview with Thomas in 2003 he recalled that he personally regretted the incident as it was fully contrary to his perception of respect and sportsmanship.

In an ESPN interview, Thomas admitted that, “I would go up and grab Michael Jordan’s hand, and we were vulgar, obvious sore losers when we lost to the Bulls in 1991. ” It seems very unlike Thomas, who is otherwise more aggressive and competitive but always with the necessary show of respect for the game and other players.

‘That was the only time I could be described as a really poor sport,’ said the Scot, ‘If I had it all to do again, I’d like to take a mulligan on that one. ’

Lasting Rivalry Echoes

The incident had taken place several decades ago but remained fresh within the NBA fraternity, especially because of the recent documentary series dubbed ‘The Last Dance’, where Michael Jordan relives the enmity between the two and the Pistons.

Jordan’s vocal discredit in the series emphasizes the extent of annoyance this gesture—or its absence—stirred. This episode even to this date has elicited continued debate among fans and analysts while erasing the better part of the great sportsmanship Thomas had demonstrated in his entire career.

This is such a reflective moment, something that Thomas needed to be reminded of this – yes, some actions, action as it were, done in the heat of the competition do have consequences. This is in an effort to stress on accepting defeat with equal measures of calmness.

Even in views that cross sporadically in public today, where reconciliation is far away, there remains an enduring lesson for the basketball fraternity from such moments: there is an element of rivalry that is simmered down by courtesy and honor, two concepts that define the sporting culture.

Michael Jordan