Six-time champion Michael Jordan is calling BS on Isiah Thomas’ explanation for the Pistons’ shady walk-off after being swept in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals.
In 1991, the Pistons were attempting to defend back-to-back championships. With great players like Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, Detroit was a force to be reckoned with. Despite this fact, Jordan managed to lead his Bulls to victory.
With the loss, the “Bad Boy” era came to an end. On the other hand, Jordan’s rise to prominence was set in motion, as His Airness would go on to three-peat twice in the 90’s.
Rather than taking part in a traditional handshake line after Game 4, Thomas and several of his teammates decided to make their way to the locker room during the final possession.
Isiah explained the reasoning for this walk-off in episode 4 of Michael Jordan’s featured docuseries, The Last Dance, noting that other teams had taken similar actions in the past.
Adrian Dantley was shooting a free throw, and the Boston Celtics were walking off during the game,” Thomas said, via Yahoo Sports. “I grabbed [Kevin] McHale, and then he stopped as he was walking off the floor. That’s how they left the floor. And to us, that was OK.
Knowing what we know now, and the aftermath of what took place, I think all of us would have stopped and said “Hey congratulations,” like they do now. We would have did it, of course we would have done it. But during that period of time, that’s just not how it was passed.
When you lost, you left the floor. That was it.
Michael Jordan, who lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals the previous two years, claims that Thomas’ explanation has changed over the years — and it has.
“Well I know it’s all bulls—,” Michael Jordan said, via Yahoo Sports. “Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He has time enough to think about it. Or the reaction of the public has kinda changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want, there’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a–hole.”
It’s a well-known fact that Jordan is a fierce competitor, and he hates to lose at anything. He admits that it hurt to lose to the Pistons in the previous two seasons, but he still had enough sportsmanship to shake their hands in defeat.
“There’s a certain respect to the game that we paid to them,” Michael Jordan said. “That’s sportsmanship. No matter how much it hurts, and believe me it f—ing hurt.”
It seems as though Jordan still holds a certain level of disdain for Thomas and his Pistons teammates.
Thomas’ reasoning for walking off has changed a bit over the years. In 2013, he mentioned a few disrespectful tirades from Jordan and the Bulls. Not much was said about the Celtics giving the Pistons a walk-off treatment in seasons prior.
“We had dethroned the Celtics, we had dethroned the Lakers and we thought that we deserved a little bit of respect as a champion,” Isiah Thomas said, via Yahoo Sports. “Everyone and every team could play and act like the Pistons and adopt out philosophy, except the Pistons.
Before the Bulls swept us in ’91, I remember clearly Jordan and Phil Jackson, because they swept us in Detroit, they went on a day-and-a-half tirade about how we were bad for the game, how we were bad people, how Laimbeer was a thug. In our town. They were up 3-0 and then they had this press conference just totally disrespecting us as champions.
They went on to sweep us, and the decision was made just to walk off … It was made on the bench as the game was winding down.”
ok so Isiah is about to catch a tidal wave of slander so i implore you to watch the Open Court interview with him from 2013 where he gives the full explanation of their reasoning to walk off and if they'd do it again if given the opportunity. pic.twitter.com/giImVPxUdx
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) April 27, 2020
Thomas’ initial reaction after falling to the Bulls in the ’91 ECF was raw. At that time, there were no apologies made, and there was no regret:
“In terms of us walking off the court, we don’t really make any apologies for that because we were beat,” Thomas said, via Yahoo Sports. “They beat us soundly. At that time, we were mad, we were upset. For me to sit here now and say we didn’t really mean it, that would be a lie, because at that time we meant it. Was it unsportsmanlike? Yes. Was it the wrong thing to do? Yes. But at the time, is that the way we felt? Yeah, it was a very emotional response.”
For me to sit here and say now that we really didn’t mean it, we didn’t feel that way, that would be a lie.”
Thomas apologized to the city of Detroit and its fans earlier this week for any reputation damage the walk-off may have caused. As part of his message, he tried to elaborate further on his team’s decision.
“In coming down as champions, you have certain emotions,” Thomas said. “I’ve said this many a times, looking back, over the years, had we had the opportunity to do it all over again, I think all of us would make a different decision. Now, me myself personally, I paid a heavy price for that decision.”
“It’s unfortunate that it happened, but that’s just how it was during that period of time.”
Nearly 30 years later, this story is back in the headlines. Even now, it seems both players are holding their ground.