Aside from Jerry Krause, the chief villain of The Last Dance thus far has been Isiah Thomas. The leader of the Bad Boys Pistons teams is still hated by Michael Jordan and many of the other players from those Bulls teams of the late 80s and early 90s, and that tension has been well-documented for years but has been thrust back into the spotlight thanks to this documentary.
This past Sunday’s episodes included a section on the Dream Team, where Thomas was famously excluded and is considered the biggest snub by far. Thomas still doesn’t understand his exclusion, but it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t basketball talent that kept him off the squad that went to Barcelona. Michael Jordan insisted in the documentary that he was not the reason for Thomas’ exclusion, noting that damn near half the Dream Team roster had previously had issues with Thomas. Rod Thorn has stated that in discussions with Jordan, Thomas never came up, and in the documentary the two recall their phone call with Mike asking “who’s going to be there” and Thorn simply saying, “not the guy you’re thinking of.”
Jordan’s insinuation that others like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird also didn’t like Isiah and could’ve been part of keeping him off the roster led to Magic addressing that issue on First Take on Monday.
“You have to be with each other for two months, and there was four or five guys who just had problems with him [Isiah Thomas],” Magic said. “He was unfortunately not going to be a part of the Dream Team because of those problems, because we all had to live with each other for two months, practice with each other, hang out with each other, all those things.”
“Now, did I have a hand in him not being on the Dream Team? No. They didn’t ask me who should be on the team. The only thing David Stern and Rod Thorn asked me to do was to call Larry Bird and Michael Jordan and tell them they should play on the Dream Team.”
At this point, given the recollection Jordan had of his conversation with Thorn and Magic’s insistence here that Isiah never came up in conversations between he and the USA Basketball executives, what seems most likely is that none of the players had direct conversations that led to Thomas’ exclusion — which, in turn, gives them all plausible deniability here. Thorn, as the executive VP of basketball operations for the NBA, knew very well the tensions between all of those players and Thomas and did not need to have explicit conversations with them to know that keeping Thomas off the roster was the best way to ensure they got the rest of those top stars to agree to join the squad.
So, while those players were surely the reason Isiah didn’t land on the roster, they didn’t have to say anything for that to happen. From Thorn’s perspective, it’s understandable. You leave off one player to ensure you get five of the biggest names in basketball — and most importantly, the biggest in Michael Jordan — and while it’s unfortunate for Thomas that he was left off, it couldn’t have been a very difficult decision for Thorn and USA Basketball.