Isiah Thomas: If walk-off cost me a ‘Dream Team’ spot, I’m more disappointed now than at the time

Pistons guard Isiah Thomas and Bulls guard Michael Jordan
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Pistons great Isiah Thomas expressed regret for walking off the floor without shaking the Bulls’ hands at the end of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Michael Jordan still carries a grudge.

And this is 29 years later!

Emotions were running much hotter at the time.

The Dream Team was selected shortly after, and Thomas was excluded. It was easy to see Jordan as the reason. At the time, speculation focused on Thomas’ alleged freeze-out of the Bulls star during the 1985 All-Star game.

But seeing how much attention Jordan paid to the handshake snub during “The Last Dance” documentary, there’s even more reason to view that as a factor.

Thomas, via ESPN:

Looking back, if I’m not a part of the Dream Team because a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone’s hand, if that’s the reason why I didn’t make the Dream Team, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then when I wasn’t selected.

Thomas was a marginal choice for the Dream Team. He would have been a totally reasonable selection. It was also reasonable to leave him off purely on basketball merit. He wasn’t as great as the players who made it for career accomplishments, and he was past his prime in 1992.

But it’s hard to believe politics – especially appeasing Jordan – didn’t factor. I don’t blame Thomas for believing he didn’t get fair consideration for the 1992 Olympic team.

It’s easy to hide behind valuing sportsmanship while playing up the handshake situation. But Larry Bird made the Dream Team.

Bird, via Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

“I didn’t shake hands when we lost to the Lakers,” recalled Bird, now the Pacers’ president. “I never shook hands. When the Lakers and Celtics played, we didn’t shake hands. When I first got to play against Magic, there was a hate factor there. It was more than just dislike.”

The big difference: Bird didn’t cross Jordan, the NBA’s golden boy. Thomas did.

So, a minor situation got turned into something much bigger that still resonates all these years later.

Big enough to cost Thomas a spot on the Dream Team? Maybe.

The uncertainty alone is troubling.