This is the beef that never ends.
Isiah Thomas lit a fire under his longstanding feud with rival Michael Jordan in recent comments lamenting Jordan's portrayal of Thomas in the ESPN documentary "The Last Dance." Thomas made his comments while speaking with Greece's Cosmote TV, which holds the country's NBA broadcast rights.
"When I was watching "The Last Dance," I’m sitting there, and I’m watching it with my family, and I’m thinking everything is good," Thomas said, per EuroHoops. "And then this guy comes on television and he says that he hates me, and then he calls me an a**hole.
"And then I proceed to watch a whole documentary about him being an a**hole. I’m like wait a minute, time out. Until I get a public apology, this beef is gonna go on for a long, long time, cause I’m from the west side of Chicago."
"This guy" is Jordan. This basketball vendetta is one that dates back to the late '80s and early '90s. It's 2022, and neither party has backed down. Thomas even promoted his latest comments on Twitter.
My full quote don't shorten it or take it out context see below why! https://t.co/2Vckw2yb3d
— Isiah Thomas (@IsiahThomas) November 8, 2022
The comments Thomas takes issue with come from Jordan's statement in "The Last Dance," a series that aired more than two years ago in April-May 2020. The rivalry between Jordan's Chicago Bulls and Thomas' Detroit Pistons was a central part of the series' story.
In it, Thomas addressed a flashpoint in their relationship when the Pistons walked off the court without shaking hands after the Bulls swept them in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons had beaten the Bulls in the previous two conference finals en route to NBA championships.
Jordan took the snub as a sign of disrespect and has held a grudge against Thomas in the decades since. He criticized Thomas during his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech. He famously froze out Thomas from the 1992 Dream Team Olympics.
Thomas explained the walkoff during "The Last Dance" as simply part of the time's basketball culture that dated back to Detroit's previous playoff series with Larry Bird's Boston Celtics.
"Knowing what we know now, and the aftermath of what took place, I think all of us would have stopped and said 'Hey, congratulations,' like they do now," Thomas said. "We would have did it, of course we would have done it. But during that period of time, that’s just not how it was passed.
"When you lost, you left the floor. That was it."
Jordan wasn't interested in Thomas' explanation when a producer prompted him for commentary in "The Last Dance." And yes, he called Thomas an "a**hole."
"Well I know it’s all bulls***,” Jordan said. “Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He has time enough to think about it. Or the reaction of the public has kinda changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want, there's no way you can convince me he wasn't an a***hole."
Jordan's point about Thomas changing "his perspective" on the subject has merit. Thomas' story has evolved over the years. Here's what Thomas said months after the walkoff, which he described at the time in November 1991 as "unsportsmanlike" and "the wrong thing to do."
The reasoning for the Pistons leaving the bench has slightly evolved over time.
In Nov 1991, nearly 6 months after it happened, the Pistons returned to Chicago Stadium. Isiah gave this interview with TNT. #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/tuBv9JIBbN
— Carl 🇧🇿 (@TheCnotes) April 27, 2020
"They beat us soundly," Thomas said. "At that time, we were mad, we were upset. For me to sit here now and say we didn't really mean it, that would be a lie, because at that time we meant it.
"Was it unsportsmanlike? Yes. Was it the wrong thing to do? Yes. But at the time, is that the way we felt? Yeah, it was a very emotional response. For me to sit here and say now that we really didn't mean it, we didn't feel that way, that would be a lie."
In 2013, Thomas revisited the subject and said that Jordan's and Phil Jackson's comments during a news conference inspired the walkoff.
"Before the Bulls swept us in '91, I remember clearly Jordan and Phil Jackson, because they swept us in Detroit, they went on a day-and-a-half tirade about how we were bad for the game, how we were bad people, how [Bill] Laimbeer was a thug. In our town. They were up 3-0, and then they had this press conference just totally disrespecting us as champions.
"They went on to sweep us, and the decision was made just to walk off ... It was made on the bench as the game was winding down.”
None of this jibes with the walkoff simply being part early '90s basketball culture. All of it jibes with Jordan using Thomas as competitive fuel for years.
Now does the situation warrant Thomas having been left off the Dream Team? Of course not. Thomas was not only one of the great guards of his era, but one of the best of all time. His absence from USA Basketball's definitive and iconic Olympic team was glaring. And it was thanks to Jordan not wanting him there.
Hence the back-and-forth "a**hole" barbs.
As of the time of this post, there was no retort from Jordan.