Recently, Pistons Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas stopped by the NBA TV “Open Court” set to answer some pointed questions from host Ernie Johnson. The first involved Thomas’decision to walk out early during the Pistons’ Game 4 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals after Michael Jordan and the Bulls swept the defending champs.
In Sam Smith’s seminal non-fiction account of that hectic 1990-91 season for the Bulls, The Jordan Rules, he mentioned the politicking in the press by head coach Phil Jackson and the Bulls players denouncing the physical, intimidating style of play the Pistons played on their way to back-to-back titles and three-straight Eastern Conference titles. The Bulls didn’t think it had any place in the game, and singled out Bill Laimbeer for his cheap tactics performed in the guise of tough play.
This wasn’t the first time someone or some team had publicly revolted against the carnage the Pistons wrecked on their way to victories. Their hard-nosed style flew in the face of the Showtime Lakers they beat in the 1989 Finals and the artistry of Air Jordan and his new running mate Scottie Pippen in every Eastern Conference playoff battle up until ’91. This was the specious reasoning Zeke provided for his unsportsmanlike act following their fourth-straight loss in 1991.
Zeke led his Pistons team off the court when there was still under a second remaining in the deciding game to avoid having to shake hands with Jordan and the Bulls. On Open Court, estimates that after 6-8 months, he realized it had been a mistake stemming from all the verbal slings and arrows from Jackson and the Bulls.
When Ernie asked Zeke, “If you had to do it over again, would you shake hands with the Bulls,” the former Pistons great answered, “absolutely.”
It was only a year after the shirked handshake when Jordan famously stipulated that Isiah be left off the 1992 Dream Team if he were to be involved — since professionals had just been allowed to compete. Many on the newly formed USA Olympic Basketball Committee used the incident in Game 4 as a specious excuse for leaving Zeke off the team in favor of John Stockton.
What do you think of Thomas’ regret for the incident?
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