The Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas beef continues 30 years later. We all know about MJ, but Zeke was no slouch, either. A Hall of Famer, in fact. He's no Jordan, but Thomas paved the way for small point guards in the NBA. You can't be mad if Zeke gets annoyed that people always talk about Michael Jordan and the Bulls. After all, he did beat them convincingly for years.
Also, Isiah and the Pistons beat Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, as well as Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. No other player can say they beat all three, but Isiah can. Isiah has had an amazing basketball career. He was a McDonald's All-American, NCAA Champion, Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and number two overall draft pick. Zeke is a two-time NBA Champion with one Finals MVP. Zeke deserves his respect.
With Jordan playing for his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, it was only right that the city of Chicago hated Isiah Thomas. Even though the former Hoosier Guard is from Chicago, MJ was the man that everyone loved. Hence, the start of the Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas beef. Zeke and the "Bad Boy" Pistons were in the way of the city getting a victory parade. Not to mention, Detroit enforced pain on their stars every time the teams met. Surely to this day, Chicago fans still don't like Thomas.
That goes for Michael Jordan as well. The two still can't seem to hug and make up. Despite having said nice things about each other at times, their relationship is far from good. Let's dive into what we know about the infamous Michael Jordan & Isiah Thomas beef.
Battles On The Hardwood
Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan first met on the basketball court in 1984. In an exhibition game, the Collegiate U.S. Olympic team beat the NBA All-Star team, 84-72. The NBA All-Star team included Magic Johnson and Thomas, but Jordan poured in 27 to lead all scorers. This was the second time Jordan and his Collegiate Olympic squad beat the Thomas-led NBA All-Stars.
In 1985, Jordan was selected to his first All-Star game, but it didn't go as he would've liked it. This is remembered as the "freeze-out" game. Allegedly, Zeke convinced the other veterans not to pass Jordan the ball. It was rumored that Thomas and the other veterans believed Michael was too cocky throughout the weekend. Just like that, the Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas beef is born.
Afterward, Thomas and Jordan declared they had no issues with each other. We all know Jordan takes everything personally. The Pistons and the Bulls met two days later, and let's say Mike wasn't over the "freeze-out." He put up 49 points to go with 15 rebounds and a win, while Thomas just managed 19 points.
Michael Jordan Vs. Isiah Thomas Beef Erupts
When they met, Jordan kept killing the Pistons, including a record-breaking 61-point performance in Detroit in 1987. He broke the scoring records for all Pistons that night. The Pistons were known for being the "Bad Boys" and weren't afraid to get physical. The following year, in a matchup against Detroit, as Jordan went to the hoop, Pistons center Rich Mahorn threw Jordan down to the ground. A fight erupted amongst Mahorn, Bulls forward Charles Oakley, and Bulls Head Coach Doug Collins.
After the game, Jordan declared Detroit "one of the dirtiest teams around." They met a few more times that season with Detroit getting the best of Chicago, but in their last meeting in Detroit, Michael made sure to put on a show. He scored 59 points in a win. Although, in the playoffs, Thomas and the Pistons would defeat Jordan and the Bulls in five games en route to being the Eastern Conference champions. Jordan and the Bulls were no match for Thomas and Detroit.
In 1989, their rivalry continued, with Detroit winning the season series against Chicago, 4-1. A year after meeting in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, both teams met again in the Conference Finals. After Jordan's 46-point performance in Game 3, Thomas urged Coach Daly to implement the "Jordan Rules," and they won the next three games to clinch the series. The "Jordan Rules" helped again the following year in the Eastern Conference Finals for Detroit. They beat the Bulls in seven games en route to their second NBA Championship.
Bulls Finally Dethrone Detroit
It was a fresh decade and time for a new champion. In 1991, Michael Jordan and the Bulls finally dethroned their bullies and swept the Detroit Pistons. For the third consecutive year, the teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the "Jordan Rules" didn't work this time. Michael averaged 29 points through the four games en route to his first NBA championship. What people won't forget about this game is that the Pistons left the court with 7.9 seconds remaining. They did not show the Bulls any respect as they walked right past their bench. After the game, Jordan spoke about the "Bad Boy" Pistons.
"You see two different styles with us and them. The dirty play and the flagrant fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct, hopefully that will be eliminated form the game with them gone...You never lose respect for the champions. But I haven't agreed with the methods they've used. I think people are happy the game will get back to a clean game."
Isiah responded to Jordan's comments: "People will look back at this team and say we were one of the greatest teams to play basketball. We were great champions. He should be classier than to talk like that."
Zeke Does Not Make the "Dream Team"
After watching Jordan win back-to-back championships, Isiah had to sit back and watch him win a Gold Medal. Thomas believes Jordan had something to do with him not being on the infamous Olympic "Dream Team" in 1992. Instead, Jordan's teammate, Scottie Pippen, was selected. In The Last Dance docuseries, Jordan declares that Rod Thorn assured him Isiah wouldn't be playing when he asked who was on the team. He remains that he never even mentioned Isiah's name. In a book titled Dream Team, it is said that Jordan told Thorn that if Isiah were on the team, he wouldn't play. We still do not know the truth to this day.
In the '90s, Isiah's career started to dwindle as he dealt with injuries. He retired in 1994 but didn't leave the game entirely. Zeke was an executive for the Toronto Raptors as Jordan still won championships with the Bulls. Thomas then went on to be the head coach for the Indiana Pacers, even coaching Michael in his last few All-Star games.
Chicago Likes Mike, Not Zeke
In 2004, Michael had a conversation with Cigar Aficionado and discussed what the issues were between him and Isiah: "Isiah [Thomas] was from Chicago, and he wanted to come back and show he still dominated Chicago. I was the new guy in Chicago, and people were supporting the team. It became a dogfight between us. There was some real hatred there."
Former Chicago Bulls player, Brad Sellers, also had similar comments to what his ex-teammate said. "But the bigger issue was that Isiah was from Chicago, he worked to be one of the top players to represent that city, and Mike came in and eviscerated that."
The Last Dance
When The Last Dance aired in 2020, Isiah took issue with Jordan calling him an "a**hole" on national television. He didn't see it that way; he felt that he took care of Jordan while he was in Chicago. He explained his feelings on the Pivot Podcast. "Now, this is real talk; go back and document it. You can go back on the west side of Chicago; I ain't talking bout Michigan Avenue, where they used to kick me off for shining shoes. ... They kicked me outta there. On the west side of Chicago, that's where I'm from, OK? ... When Michael Jordan got to Chicago, I made it real easy for him to walk those streets on the west side of Chicago. My family took care of him, my sister and his brother hung out as friends, my little nephew lived with Michael Jordan. ... I'm being extremely good to this dude. I'm calling his house during this period of time. So all this, 'Isiah was an assh-e,' no, no, no, dude, I was looking out for you."
It looks like Zeke is expecting an apology but probably won't get it. Before The Last Dance, the beef was quiet. Jordan stirred up the pot again with his latest comments. Over 30 years later, Isiah will never back down to Jordan.
Beef Is Never Over
On April 6th, the social media page Ball Is Life posted a video of Jordan scoring 59 against Isiah and the Pistons 35 years ago. Isiah retweeted the post with a caption praising his championship team. Zeke never misses a chance to shout out his Pistons. Just recently, Charles Oakley had something to say to Isiah on the All the Smoke podcast. He urged him to stop talking about Michael Jordan. Oakley played with Jordan and the Bulls from 1985-1988. He is familiar with Thomas and the "Bad Boy" Pistons.
"He came in your city and took your city. That's why you're really mad. He took over Chicago." Isiah retweeted NBA Central's post stating he never called Chicago his. The Hall of Famer alludes he doesn't have an ego based off his upbringing. Zeke doesn't forget where he came from. It's a place where Oakley is not from. Over 30 years later, this Bulls-Pistons beef will never fade away. Isiah once had beef with Magic Johnson, but they sat down and patched it up. It doesn't look like that will happen here.