The 1992 Men’s Olympic basketball team, better known as the “Dream Team,” is regarded as one of the greatest sports teams ever assembled – but it didn’t come together without a bit of controversy.
This past weekend, ESPN aired Episodes 3 and 4 of The Last Dance docuseries, chronicling the Chicago Bulls’ rise to prominence over the course of the 1980s and 90s. And both episodes explored the Bulls’ rivalry with the Detroit Pistons, infamously known as the “Bad Boys.”
In case you forgot, this is what the Bad Boys are all about.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) April 24, 2020
Detroit’s superstar point guard was Isiah Thomas. He led the Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, winning Finals MVP in 1990. He made the NBA All-Star team every year from 1982 to 1993 – winning the game’s MVP award in 1984 and 1986 – and he was an All-NBA First Team selection from 1984-86.
He is often regarded as the second-best point guard in NBA history behind Magic Johnson.
One of the greatest NBA Finals performances ever!
Hobbling on a sprained ankle, @IsiahThomas scored 25 points in a quarter, including 14 straight.
He finished with 43 PTS (18-32 FG, 2-3 3PT), 8 ASTS & 6 STLS
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) April 30, 2020
Now, let’s rewind a bit.
For decades, the best players in college basketball would represent the USA in the Summer Olympics, considering only amateur players were allowed to participate. In 1988, the squad featured future NBA stars Danny Manning, David Robinson, Mitch Richmond and more.
However, for the first time in history, Team USA did not make it to the Gold Medal game, and prior to the 1992 Olympics, the decision was made that professional players could now readily participate in the Olympic games.
Enter the Dream Team.
The Dream Team was compiled of the NBA’s best and brightest, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and more.
But there was one name that was famously left off the roster: Isiah Thomas.
Fast-forward back to today, and Thomas’s omission from the Dream Team is once again a heated debate, after it was highlighted on The Last Dance, considering most blame Jordan for Thomas not being on the squad.
Jordan and Thomas were bitter rivals in the 80s and 90s. The Pistons were known for their physical style of play, and Jordan was often the recipient of their bruising approach.
The Jordan Rules aka jump MJ when he has the ball pic.twitter.com/11C6SA1PHW
— Barstool Chicago (@barstoolchicago) April 23, 2020
Detroit defeated Chicago in the playoffs three consecutive seasons before the Bulls broke through in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals, sweeping Detroit.
It resulted in the infamous Detroit walk-off.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 27, 2020
And as we can tell via The Last Dance, Jordan is still not over the way he was treated by Isiah and the Pistons.
Michael Jordan on the Pistons: “I hated them. And the hate carries to this day.”
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 27, 2020
So, who is to blame for Thomas’s Dream Team snub?
Was it that Jordan didn’t want him on the team?
This week, Thomas said he would be disappointed if Jordan played a role in the decision to leave him off of the Dream Team, a team he still feels he should have been on.
“Being left off the Dream Team, that personally hurt me … The only thing that’s missing from my resume is [the Dream Team] … I still don’t know who did it or why I didn’t make it. I know the criteria for making the team, I fit all the criteria. That’s a big hole in my resume.”
“Looking back, if I’m not a part of the Dream Team because a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone’s hand … then I am more disappointed today than I was back then.”
Isiah Thomas is still “hurt” that he was left off the Dream Team. pic.twitter.com/YkRt8zIY09
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 27, 2020
Shannon Sharpe believes that Thomas’s omission begins and ends with his relationship with Jordan, but does give some of the blame to Thomas for his treatment of Jordan and other players, citing the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, when Thomas apparently led a freeze-out of Jordan.
“[Former NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn] said, ‘Nobody would have been on that team if Jordan didn’t want them on that team’ … You remember what happened in the ’85 All-Star Game? They stalled Jordan out. Who did Jordan believe lead that: Isiah Thomas. You stalled him out as a rookie and then, you didn’t shake his hand.”
“Magic & Isiah are good friends, even Magic said: ‘Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics, nobody wanted to play with him.’ But the next call for the PG should’ve been Isiah Thomas, stop this foolishness that ‘Isiah wasn’t good enough.'”
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) April 30, 2020
There’s another side to this story. Could Thomas’s prickly relationships with players not named Jordan also have played a role in his omission?
Jay Williams argues that the decision came down to more than just Jordan – Bird and Magic also had a say.
“It just wasn’t the Jordan … I think it was a series of events that occurred throughout his career. It was the relationship that he had with the Boston Celtics, which was a crazy rival. Larry Bird was on that dream team … and Magic also said that he was one of the ones that drew a line, and he didn’t want Isiah to play in the dream team.”
Here is the bigger question: should those sour relationships have mattered?
Even though bad blood existed between Thomas and multiple players, some say that his on-court performance should have trumped his off-court squabbles.
Stephen A. Smith agrees that Thomas’s omission was unjust, especially because John Stockton was selected for the team, a player that Smith says “wasn’t even on Isiah Thomas’s level.”
“Isiah Thomas was a champion at Indiana University. He was a 2-time champion in the NBA. He went to three consecutive NBA Finals … He’s universally recognized as arguably the greatest small guard in the history of basketball … John Stockton, as great as he was, wasn’t even on Isiah Thomas’s level, but he was picked to be on the Dream Team.”
“We have to get to a point in our society where we remind people that resumes are important. What you’ve accomplished actually should matter, rather than people’s personal animus.”@stephenasmith is advocating for people to view Isiah Thomas based on resume alone. pic.twitter.com/2Ge5AoAj4M
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 28, 2020
There are never-ending sides to this thing!
Max Kellerman made the argument that Thomas and Stockton were not that far apart as players and that Stockton’s selection to the Dream Team was justified, suggesting that Isiah simply didn’t make the team.
“You guys are just insisting that there is no comparison between Isiah and Stockton … Ultimately, I agree that by a hair it’s Isiah … but Stockton had a much longer career, and his peak was nearly as good and he had many more great seasons than Isiah did … [Stockton] was a much more efficient scorer and a better defender.”
— First Take (@FirstTake) April 30, 2020
Skip Bayless agrees with Kellerman, especially after Thomas said this week that Jordan was the fourth best player he played against in his career.
“The decision makers decided he wasn’t worthy of being on the 12-man roster … I love Isiah … but they went with Magic at point guard, and John Stockton, the all-time assists leader, as his backup point guard.”
“This is nothing but bitter, bad blood from Isiah Thomas. He still mistakenly holds it against Michael Jordan for keeping him off a Dream Team that he didn’t make on sheer ability.”@RealSkipBayless on Isiah Thomas ranking MJ 4th on his all-time list pic.twitter.com/hjyVw5gGX5
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 1, 2020
Rod Thorn, who put together the Dream Team all those years ago, sought to end the mystery debate this week when he said that Jordan had no say in Thomas not being on the Dream Team.
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) April 29, 2020
However, the truth is only true if you believe it.
And it doesn’t seem like Thomas is a believer quite yet.