Isiah Responds To Jordan Barb Over '91 Walk-Off: 'I Paid A Heavy Price'

Jordan called Thomas an 'a*sshole' for not shaking hands.

Will Burchfield
April 27, 2020 - 12:10 pm

The most recent installments of 'The Last Dance' brought back some bad memories for fans of the Pistons. And it brought back the beef between Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas, specifically Detroit's infamous walk-off after they were swept by the Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. 

To this day, Jordan said he considers Thomas an 'a**hole' for not shaking hands. 

Thomas, who said shaking hands with your rival wasn't a tradition back then, responded to Jordan's comments Monday morning on ESPN's 'Get Up.'

"I speak for three things here," he said. "I speak for the city of Detroit, I speak for the Detroit Pistons, and then I also speak for myself ... In terms of how we felt at that particular time as champions, we were coming down, Michael Jordan was coming up. And in coming up, you have certain emotions. And in coming down as champions, you have certain emotions. And I've said this many of times: Looking back over the years, had we had the opportunity to do it all over again, I think all of us would make a different decision."

"Now, me, myself, personally, I paid a heavy price for that decision. I understand that this is the sports world, but at the same time looking back in terms of how we felt at that particular time, our emotional state and how we exited the floor, we actually gave the world the opportunity to look at us in a way that we never really tried to position ourselves in or project ourselves in. So it's unfortunate that it happened, but that's just how it was during that period of time.”

The price Thomas is referring to, of course, is the fact he was snubbed for the 1992 Dream Team at Jordan's behest -- a decision Jordan has talked about publicly. 

"Being left off the Dream Team, that personally hurt me," he said. "When the Dream Team was selected and I wasn’t a part of it, there was a lot of controversy around it. I still don’t know who did it or why they say I didn’t make it. I know the criteria of selection for making the team, I fit all the criteria. And that’s a big hole in my resume, the biggest 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, if that's the reason why, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then."

The Pistons' decision to walk off the floor in 1991 was motivated in part by comments the Bulls had made about them in the past. While Thomas says the team would do things differently in hindsight, Bill Laimbeer says he doesn't regret it one bit.

"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," Laimbeer told Rachel Nichols. "We weren’t bad people. We were just basketball players winning. That really stuck with me because they didn’t know who we were or what we were about as individuals and in our family life. So all that whining they did, why shake their hands? They were just whiners. They won the series, give them credit. We got old, they got past us, but okay, move on."

Asked if he regrets it now, Laimbeer said, "No, why would I regret it now? I don’t care what the media says about it. I never did. If I did, I’d be a basket case, especially back then. No, I was about winning basketball games and winning championships and did whatever I had to do to get the most out of my ability and my team. And we did. At the end of the day, we’re called world champions."

Thomas added that the Pistons had no issue with the Celtics walking off the floor when Detroit ended Boston's reign in 1988.

"For us, it was okay when Boston exited, it was okay when Larry Bird exited," Thomas said. "We never looked back and said, 'Oh, they were poor sports, they were bad champions.' We were actually grateful of the lessons they had taught us along the way in terms of how to win, how to become a good team, how to be a solid franchise, how to have rules, how to have regulations, how to be disciplined enough to go out and compete every single night to earn and win a championship. That’s what the Celtics taught us, that’s what the Lakers taught us, that's what we learned form the 76ers.

"So the moment in time that we’re talking about here, we’ve never asked for an apology from the Boston Celtics, and I don’t believe the Boston Celtics ever asked for an apology from the Los Angeles Lakers."

ESPN's Jay Williams defended Thomas and the Pistons as well, calling the rivalry between Detroit and Chicago 'real basketball.'

"I think the viewers need to understand some context when it comes down to this walk-off. The bulls are up 3-0, and the day before the game that clinched that series, Jordan was getting questions from reporters and he called the Pistons 'bad champions.’ He said that they were 'bad for basketball,' he said that they were ‘shameful.' So I’m not excusing those actions, but when they’re the Bad Boys and you understand that the Lakers, the Celtics, Magic, Larry and then the torch is going to be passed to Jordan, it always felt like Detroit wasn’t the tam that was supposed to be pushed up in the eye of the NBA," said Williams. "This is what happens when teams fight and try to find a way to win championships.

"I’m not condoning it, I’m not saying it was okay, but that’s where they were at that moment of time, and I respect. That’s what real basketball is."