Urban legends in sports always serve as excellent conversation starters. When it comes to the NBA, one of the more dubious centers around the 1992 Olympic Men’s Basketball team and the peculiar omission of Isaiah Thomas. Landing in the inbox today was a 2009 interview with two Dream Team members, Scottie Pippen and Clyde Drexler, sitting down at Sirius XM studios to discuss the ancient and infamous story which still manages to keep its legs after many a year.
While no new explosive information was shared by either Hall Of Famer, hearing Pip and Clyde The Glide open up in regards to the situation was something basketball geeks like myself get kicks out of. We remember Isaiah Thomas nowadays as an executive who couldn’t carve himself out of a wet paper bag if given a knife. Yet, on the court, Zeke was one of the baddest men to ever touch a basketball. Splendid all around skills, tough as nails and a natural born leader. Physical attributes and professional results alone – two titles, one Finals MVP, 12 consecutive All Star Games including two MVP awards and fifth all-time in assists per game – Isiah had all the right in the world to be on that team and the résumé to support him.
Popular and common belief has told the story of Michael Jordan being the reason Thomas was left stateside during the summer of ’92. However, the reasoning runs much, much deeper than Jordan. The beautiful aspect about those 1980’s Detroit Pistons’ teams were that they hated everybody. It made for fantastic TV, great storylines and even more legendary folklore.
But when you’re that much of an alleged asshole, bridges burn and when it comes down to walking across them, being “up the creek without a paddle” defined Isaiah’s social standing in the NBA. He and Magic had a brief falling out following their Finals matchup. Larry Bird hated pretty much everyone not wearing Celtic Green. Even Karl Malone wasn’t fond of the guy (let that marinate for a moment). And that infamous ending to Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals? It rubbed not only Mike, Scottie and the Bulls the wrong way; the entire league was left with the bitter beer face. It’s almost as if Isiah took the 50 Cent approach before we knew it as the 50 Cent approach.
But, yes, Isaiah was an lightening rod who deserved much of the karma which fell upon him. You can only do dirt for so long until it washes off and exposes the real you. Yes, he was inadequate in the front office. Yes, every New York Knicks fan will burn the Garden down before he’s allowed within one thousand feet of the front door. Yes, the Dream Team didn’t need him to coast to the gold medal. They could have had me and I was only six at the time. Nevertheless, what’s ironic are the long term effects of his 1992 summer no show. How Isaiah has been perceived as person by his colleagues over the years, albeit justified, are how many choose to remember him as a ball player.
And to be quite honest, I’m not exactly sure if that’s fair.