Why Was Isiah Thomas Not Selected on the Dream Team?
For many fans, the Dream Team is considered the greatest group assembled in team sports history. With the exception of Christian Laettner (who was the only college player selected), every player was a first ballot hall of famer. But a serious issue still rages on to this day, and that is the glaring omission of Isiah Thomas. How could a 12 time all-star and 2 time NBA champion be omitted from the team? The common perception is there an element of revenge from Michael Jordan dating back to when Jordan was a rookie and Isiah allegedly orchestrated a freeze out of Jordan during his first all-star game. Another theory is, as the best player and undisputed leader of the back to back champion “bad boy” Pistons, he was the epitome of how the NBA did not want to represented in the Olympics. And the final train of thought is Isiah was excluded from the team for leaving the court with 7.9 seconds remaining in game 4 of the conference finals against Chicago.
To all of those statements, I say bullshit.
Let’s start with the first one, shall we? Jordan, as we all know, is a competitor. But are we meant to really think that Jordan, after everything that he had accomplished in his career up until 1991 when the team was selected, was sitting there and was bitter about an apparent (which everyone, including Jordan and Thomas, have denied) freeze out? Now I know that this is Jordan we’re talking about, who is the undisputed king of carrying perceived slights and using them as motivation to prove people wrong. I get that. But, Jordan had much bigger criticisms thrown at him throughout his career ranging from his inability to win due to his emphasis on individual scoring to being un-coachable. For this theory to be true, Jordan would have refused to play in any all-star game alongside Isiah. The reality is, when they played together, they played with incredible chemistry together, almost as one. It’s an absolute joy to sit back and watch what they did on the basketball court. If they could co-exist in that environment, where was the concern? I just don’t accept it as a valid rationale when Jordan, who has always been incredibly honest and candid (especially in his retirement) has been fairly complementary towards Thomas. In fact, other players, like Magic (which is so surprising considering his friendship and image of being the “ultimate teammate”) and Karl Malone and Pippen have come forward and said they didn’t want Isiah on the team.
(Speaking of Magic, how hypocritical was it of him to blast Isiah decades after they had retired and say he kept him off the team based off a rumour that Thomas was running around behind his back, then on camera during the 92 all star game hug and kiss him before the game and then turn around and tell Clyde Drexler “you had a chance to say these things to my face” when Drexler was voicing his opinion about Magic? Magic
could have should have been upfront and honest with his close friend from the start, told him what he had been hearing and given Zeke the chance to address those claims. You would have thought of all people, Magic wouldn’t been so quick to judge…)
But yet, Jordan still gets blamed for him being left off the team. Why don’t we hold Magic accountable? Or Pippen? Or Malone? In my opinion, Jordan probably just simply didn’t care if Isiah was there or not, and with that, he didn’t go stand up and demand that Thomas was on the team. But (and this certainly happened with Kobe in 2004 when Shaq was traded to Miami) is a player accountable for not being outspoken and loyal to other players? To an extent, yes. But when players do try to influence decisions, they get criticised for that as well.
As sports fans, we can’t have it both ways.
It is without question that Thomas was the best player on the Pistons. It also goes without saying that those great Pistons teams had a reputation for being tough, physical and relentless in their quest for the NBA championship. But I find it absolutely insulting that this is even mentioned as a possible reason as to why Thomas was excluded. If this was the case, how on God’s green earth could Chuck Daley be named head coach of the Dream Team when he was the coach of the Pistons at the time? If someone can logically answer that question, I’ll give them $500.
Finally, some Pistons left the court before being eliminated by Chicago in 1991. Is this bad sportsmanship? Yes. But sportsmanship has been dead for years. Is flopping bad sportsmanship? Is exploiting a mismatch bad sportsmanship? Is running the score up bad sportsmanship? Of course they are. How can this, harmless (and even defensible) action of leaving the court when the outcome had already been decided, cause a player who deserves to be there, be omitted from the Olympics? How can Charles Barkley, for all the transgression he made prior to the selections, be chosen ahead of Thomas? You tell me what’s worse: Barkley spitting on a young girl in the crowd or Thomas leaving the court before the final buzzer. You tell me what’s worse: Karl Malone decking Isiah in the opening minutes of a game after Thomas absolutely destroyed Stockton to prove the point that he should have been there.
So why, or how, could Isiah be left off the team? Is it too simplistic to say he was not chosen to strengthen the pitch to get Jordan to commit to play? I don’t think so, and I think there is an element of truth to that. But with that being said, all the blame should be at the feet of the selectors for being too gutless to stand and say “no, this guy deserves to be here. We’re selecting him. If you don’t like it, too bad. Grow up and represent your country like a man.” Instead they stood back and let Jordan take the blame for it when it was their lack of integrity and compentence that caused this injustice.
Backroom politics defeated legitimacy and sports, and because of that, the greatest team ever assembled will forever have an asterisk / black eye associated with it. Isiah was not just deserving on being selected, but he should have started along with Magic, Jordan and Bird. It was an absolute travesty that he wasn’t on that team, and although he won’t get one, deserves an unreserved apology from the selection committee.