Throughout the illustrious career of Michael Jordan, he truly had no equal on the court.
But there was one player and team that proved to be a thorn in his side in ways that nobody else proved capable.
And this past weekend, with the release of Episodes 3 and 4 of ESPN’s 10-part docuseries The Last Dance, we learned just how deep that rivalry goes.
From 1988-1990, Isiah Thomas and the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons dominated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, emerging victorious in three consecutive playoff matchups.
However, the Pistons didn’t just beat the Bulls – they beat them up.
Ever heard of the “Jordan Rules”?
The Jordan Rules aka jump MJ when he has the ball pic.twitter.com/11C6SA1PHW
— Barstool Chicago (@barstoolchicago) April 23, 2020
Of course you have.
The silver lining to those beatdowns was that they pushed Jordan and his squad to become physically and mentally stronger en route to defeating the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, before Chicago won the first of six NBA titles in franchise history.
Michael Jordan put on 15 pounds of muscle to deal with the Bad Boys Pistons! #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/ejd2WS1dFo
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) April 27, 2020
It was after that 1991 ECF win that things got interesting.
The Bulls swept the Pistons that season, and at the conclusion of Game 4, before the final buzzer, the Pistons left the court without shaking hands.
After getting swept in the ECF, the Pistons refused to shake hands with the Bulls #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/lR98JSa0nv
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 27, 2020
Jordan and his Bulls teammates, of course, took great umbrage, which we learned in greater detail this weekend in Episode 4 of The Last Dance.
“Straight up bitches.”
–Horace Grant, describing the Pistons walking off after getting swept by the Bulls #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/OkxK1wzkH4
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 27, 2020
In fact, we learned that Detroit’s actions have caused Jordan to harbor hard feelings toward Thomas and the Pistons in the year 2020.
Michael Jordan on the Pistons: “I hated them. And the hate carries to this day.”
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 27, 2020
The question has now become, is Jordan justified? Decades later, does he still have the right to be upset?
Well, depends on who you ask.
Skip Bayless, for one, says yes.
Jordan is right. It was incredibly poor sportsmanship for the Pistons to walk off without shaking hands after getting swept by the Bulls. Horace Grant went so far as to say: “Straight up b’s.” Yep.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 27, 2020
Bayless’ teammate Shannon Sharpe agrees, saying that Jordan was owed the same respect from the Pistons in defeat that he showed them every year they eliminated him from the playoffs.
“Find a guy right now that loses in the conference finals or loses in the NBA Finals that’s willing to give you an interview after they lose on the court? … He’s like, ‘Hold on, I got my butt kicked three years in a row and I was man enough to shake everybody’s hand.’”
“Michael Jordan has not forgiven the Pistons and Isiah Thomas for not shaking hands. To Michael’s credit, when they busted his head for 3 years, he shook everybody’s hand, he even did an interview on the court after he lost…He’ll never forgive Isiah.”@ShannonSharpe pic.twitter.com/aeFe8jI61F
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) April 27, 2020
But, like the saying goes, there’s always two sides to every story.
On Monday, Thomas shared his side of the tale, maintaining that the walk-off wasn’t due to poor sportsmanship or hatred towards Jordan – it’s just the way things were done at the time, citing Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics as an example.
“When we beat Boston, the game was still going on and they took out their starters and then their starters were leaving the court. Bird walked to the locker room.”
“When you got beat you left. Had we known the media would make a big deal about it, all of us including me would’ve stopped, shook hands & hugged… Who the hell wants to pay this price 30 years later?”@IsiahThomas on the Pistons’ infamous walkout vs Bulls in the 1991 playoffs pic.twitter.com/5F34UfYTkQ
— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) April 27, 2020
Many believe that Jordan’s disdain for Thomas after the walk-off is the reason Thomas was glaringly left off the 1992 Dream Team roster.
If that is the case, Thomas is more disappointed to find out the news years later.
“Being left off of the Dream Team, that personally hurt me. In 1980, I was on the Olympic team. As a matter of fact, I was voted the Male Athlete of the Year. The only thing that is missing from my resume is not being on the Dream Team.”
“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
Thomas also pointed out that after Game 3 of the 1991 ECF, Jordan made some disparaging remarks about the Pistons and Detroit, which didn’t exactly help smooth over the relationship between the two teams.
“Jordan, after Game 3, said that the Pistons were bad for basketball, we were bad people, we didn’t earn our championships. That didn’t sit right with us as a basketball team and it didn’t sit right with Detroit … Detroit is always looked at as a city that is second-class and not good enough.”
“To them talking so negatively about us after Game 3 saying that … we wasn’t worthy of being champions after the journey that we had taken … that really hurt.”
—Isiah Thomas pic.twitter.com/aULEBRcYnL
— First Take (@FirstTake) April 27, 2020
Maybe Jordan and Thomas can bury the hatchet one day.
That day, however, doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
Death, taxes, Michael Jordan hating Isiah Thomas pic.twitter.com/MncOf4czeW
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) April 27, 2020