Isiah 'Surprised' By MJ's True Feelings: "Maybe He Just Had A Bad Moment"

"He’s always been extremely nice to me and my family."

Will Burchfield
April 28, 2020 - 1:58 pm

We're four episodes into 'The Last Dance,' and one moment has created more buzz than any other: Michael Jordan calling Isiah Thomas an "a**hole" for the Pistons' infamous 1991 walk-off. 

"There's no way you can convince he wasn't," Jordan said. 

Watching the show Sunday night, Thomas was caught off guard. He knew there was some lingering bitterness between the Bulls and the Pistons, but he thought his beef with Jordan was mostly a thing of the past. 

"I really was surprised," Thomas told the Jamie and Stoney Show. "And the reason why I was surprised is because we’ve been in public places before, have had interactions with each other, have gone out to dinner. He, (former NFL player) Ahmad Rashad and I have had dinner together. He’s given my son his gym shoes, jerseys. I’ve seen him in public several times and I’ve never got any type of hostility or un-pleasantries from him. He’s always been extremely nice to me and my family whenever we’ve been out in the past. 

"So I was definitely surprised to hear him say that about me, but maybe he just had a bad moment." 

Thomas would say he and the Pistons had a 'bad moment,' too. But part of the reason they left the floor without shaking hands with the Bulls at the end of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals was due to comments made by Jordan and some of his teammates the day prior. Comments about the Pistons being bad winners and undeserving champions. 

Comments that were left out of 'The Last Dance.'

"That definitely went into the decision-making in terms of us exiting the floor," said Thomas. "All of us, knowing the journey we had been on the last couple years to try to become champions, it definitely hit us in a bad emotional spot. The other thing is, it rubbed us wrong because not only did we feel we were representing ourselves as a basketball team, we also felt that we were representing Detroit, the larger community. We felt that those words not only were offensive to us, but they were also offensive to our fanbase in Detroit."

The Bulls had talked ill of the Pistons long before the 1991 playoffs. As Bill Laimbeer said Monday in an interview with Rachel Nichols, "They whined and cried for a year and a half about how bad we were for the game. But more importantly, they said we were bad people." To Thomas, it was all part of the Bulls' propoganda to cast the Pistons as the villains -- a role Detroit quickly embraced. 

"We were the first small-market team in the NBA to really have the type of success that we had, and we always had to fight the larger media markets in terms of perception and propaganda," said Thomas. "Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, they were very good at what I call the labeling theory. They did an excellent job of labeling us and giving us bad, negative descriptions. The racialized language that they were using around our basketball team was very insensitive.

"Not only did we take offense to it, but I think all of Detroit took offense to it because of the way it was being talked about. Laimbeer, probably the first time in his life that he’s ever been labeled a thug or been called a thug. And for all of us inside the locker room, it was very disheartening to be labeled that way and to be thought about in those terms."

While Thomas admits the Pistons took a liking to the 'Bad Boys' persona, he said "we had to take the negative labels and make them work for us as a basketball team, and that’s what we decided to do. Those were the mental games that you would play with teams. If you can’t shake the label, you embrace the label."

Laimbeer, for one, said he doesn't regret the walk-off. Thomas seems to feel differently. It was a decision that likely cost him a spot on the 1992 Dream Team -- in his words, "the biggest hole in my resume."

Asked if he would do it again, Thomas said, "Knowing what I know now and the price that we’ve all paid for it, of course we wouldn’t and of course I wouldn’t. But you can’t go back and rewrite history. The decision that we made, we made it, and that’s just how it is."