The Last Dance: Does Jordan's Obsession With Isiah Boost Thomas' Legacy?

"When you think about it, it does lift Isiah’s stature."

Will Burchfield
May 06, 2020 - 3:21 pm
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'The Last Dance' hasn't been the best publicity for Isiah Thomas. For all the time he spent winning, he's been painted largely as a sore loser. 

Michael Jordan came out firing, calling Thomas an "a**hole" for the Pistons' infamous walk-off after they lost to the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. It didn't help Thomas' cause that some key facts of that story were omitted. 

As the series has continued, Jordan's aversion to Isiah has grown clear. And that's made Isiah an easy character to dislike. Really, times haven't changed. The Bad Boys remain the villains. 

But if any press is good press, maybe this is all to Isiah's benefit. As former Piston John Salley said last week, “I didn’t realize we're still on the mind of Michael Jordan. Imagine being the greatest player ever in the NBA and he goes to sleep thinking about you. I really appreciated that.”

Prompted or not, Jordan talks at length about Thomas. He broods over him, curses, acknowledges the 'hate.' He shifts, agitated, in his chair. Former Bulls GM Jerry Krause is maybe the only other character who seems to bring Jordan's blood to a simmer. 

That doesn't work in Krause's favor, considering he and Jordan were on the same side. But it does work in Isiah's, in a roundabout way. Chris Broussard made this point Tuesday on Fox Sports Radio, claiming Jordan's obsession with Thomas lifts Isiah's stature.

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“Isiah Thomas is the biggest player outside of the Bulls that is starring in this documentary," Broussard said. "Look at this, this is what’s going on. The GOAT, the greatest player of all time, is obsessed with you. 30 years later he’s still talking about you. 30 years later he still views you as his nemesis. And we see you were the guy beating him.

"Little old 6’1 Isiah Thomas, you were the obstacle. You were the guy he couldn’t get past for several years. You were the one who forced him into the weight room to get bigger and stronger. He’s not talking about Magic, he beat Magic. He’s not talking about Bird. His nemesis was Isiah Thomas. So in a strange way, when you think about it, it does lift Isiah’s stature."

The Pistons will always be the Bad Boys, and Thomas will always be the foil to Jordan. Detroit knocked Chicago out of the playoffs three years in a row, then refused to shake hands when the Bulls finally won. It's a moment Thomas wishes he could have back. It turned Jordan against him and put him on something of an island in the NBA, if the Pistons weren't on one already. 

But Jordan will never deny Isiah's talent. He even admitted last Sunday he considers Thomas the second-best point guard of all time, behind Magic Johnson. That's high praise. So is Jordan's bitterness, even if it feels like something else.