ESPN reached the “Bad Boys” Pistons-Bulls rivalry in Sunday night’s “The Last Dance,” and that has had one major consequence.
It’s time to re-litigate an entire generation of basketball and all the beef that came with it.
Among the highlights of the fourth episode of the “The Last Dance” was the debate over the Pistons’ decision to walk off the floor after getting swept by the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Bulls big man Horace Grant called the team “straight up b----es” for the move.
Thomas rationalized the walk-off by saying it was normal at the time and something the vaunted Boston Celtics did when the Pistons beat them years earlier.
Jordan’s reaction to just hearing Thomas had told the producers something was Hall of Fame-level bitter.
“Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then,” Jordan said. “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.”
Perhaps sensing the following Monday would be a good time to tell his side of the rivalry that suddenly has the NBA world talking again, Thomas appeared on ESPN’s “Get Up” to talk about a number of topics.
Isiah Thomas says he got hit too
As portrayed in the documentary, the “Jordan Rules” was a defense used by the Pistons with a clearly desired result: Jordan hitting the floor.
The Pistons weren’t subtle about how much they loved being the more physical team and the fact that they were the wall in front of Jordan. However, Thomas also added that he felt more punishment than anybody in that era when host Jalen Rose — wearing a Pistons shirt — talked about the physicality of the era.
"This generation thinks that the only one who was getting hit back then was Jordan."— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 27, 2020
—Isiah Thomas on the physicality of the NBA pic.twitter.com/tPDEFV96jz
“This generation thinks that the only one getting hit back then was Jordan,” Thomas said. “I can say on this television station here today: there is no player during that period of time that got hit and punished more than myself. And I have all the scars to prove it.”
The documentary also portrayed Jordan and the Bulls’ intense offseason program in which the superstar significantly bulked up, leading to the aforementioned sweep of the Pistons in 1991.
Thomas wasn’t impressed.
"You shouldn't be rewarded for lifting weights."— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 27, 2020
—Isiah Thomas on the Chicago Bulls path to a championship pic.twitter.com/5Bb18ja1Cr
“Jordan is, and the Chicago Bulls, they are rewarded for lifting weights, getting stronger, becoming mentally tougher,” Thomas said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do to win a championship. You were not going to beat the Detroit Pistons if you wasn’t physically fit, if you wasn’t in the best shape of your life and if you wasn’t mentally tough.
“Chicago and Michael Jordan did and became all of those things. But while they were losing to us, they weren’t those things. Now, you shouldn’t be rewarded for lifting weights. We got high-school kids now lifting weights. Being physically fit and wanting to be in shape to get better, that’s part of becoming a champion. Again, to Chicago’s credit, they did.
It’s kind of hard to decipher the point Thomas is trying to make there, given that he says the Bulls shouldn’t be credited for lifting weights, then credits them for becoming champions by, among other things, lifting weights.
Thomas also lamented being left off the Dream Team, a decision widely believed to be directly Jordan’s doing.
"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."— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 27, 2020
Isiah Thomas is still "hurt" that he was left off the Dream Team. pic.twitter.com/YkRt8zIY09
It’s not a surprise Thomas is trying to air all of this out. As Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell explained, this entire documentary could end up being the defining text of a generation of basketball, and that might not be great for the rivals of the guy who has control over the entire process.
The “Bad Boys” Pistons weren’t just roadblocks for Jordan, they were a two-time world champion and icons for an entire city. Of course guys like Thomas and Bill Laimbeer — who also went on ESPN to call the Bulls “whiners” — are going to try to get their say.
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