Isiah Thomas remains the most controversial exclusion from the Dream Team.
Even decades after the 1992 Olympics, Michael Jordan is still explaining it.
Thomas was a reasonable omission on merit. He wasn’t as accomplished as the players – Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Jordan – who made it on career achievements. On a sharp decline from his peak, Thomas was also no longer clearly better than the players who made it on current ability.
Thomas also would’ve been a reasonable inclusion on merit. He was close in both categories – career accomplishments and current ability. Nobody would’ve blinked if the combination elevated Thomas onto the team.
But everyone clearly wanted to accommodate Jordan, the NBA’s golden boy. And Jordan loathed (loathes) the Bad Boys Pistons after their battles with his Bulls. So, it’s hard to believe politics didn’t factor in keeping Thomas – a marginal choice – off the roster.
Jordan in “The Last Dance” documentary:
I respect Isiah Thomas’ talent. To me, the best point guard of all-time is Magic Johnson, and right behind him is Isiah Thomas. No matter how much I hate him, I respect his game.
The Dream Team, based on the environment and the camaraderie that happed on that team, it was best harmony. Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes.
That’s high praise from Jordan, especially considering Jordan’s animosity toward Thomas. It’s also too strong.
And that’s before getting into more controversial selections like Chris Paul (who has been more effective than Thomas on both ends of the floor but hasn’t matched Thomas’ deep-playoff accomplishments) and John Stockton (whose peak wasn’t quite as high as Thomas’ but had a FAR longer prime). I’d rank both ahead of Thomas.
As far as the Dream Team…
Thomas was a fierce competitor who went hard at his opponents. He was interested in beating, not befriending.
But you know else fit that description? Jordan, Johnson, Bird… practically everyone on the Dream Team. Like the rest, Thomas could be affable in certain environments.
Change any member of a 12-person group, and the dynamic changes. The players got along great at the 1992 Olympics. It’s hard to imagine it going much better.
But if Thomas were included, it probably wouldn’t have gone much differently, either.