Pistons guard Isiah Thomas and Bulls guard Michael Jordan
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Isiah Thomas on Michael Jordan: ‘That wasn’t my competition’ in 80s

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Michael Jordan called Isiah Thomas the second-best point guard ever. Thomas, according Bob Costas, unfailingly called Jordan the greatest player he ever saw.

What happened to the beef that endured decades?

Thomas provided a spark to reignite it.

Speak For Yourself (hat tip: Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago)

Thomas:

When we were all young and healthy – from 84 to 90 – the numbers speak for themselves. He wasn’t really my competition. My competition was Bird and Magic, trying to catch the Celtics, trying to catch the Lakers. Chicago at that time, and Jordan at that time, from 84 to 90, before my wrist surgery, he just – that wasn’t my competition.

When Boston was at their absolute best, we gave them competition. But they were better than us. And as they got older, as they got a little bit more banged up, we were able to catch them. Now, what we were able to learn from Boston during that process – the Detroit Pistons, and every time you hear us talk about who were are, what we became, we do not mention ourselves as championships without saying the Boston Celtics. Because those were our teachers. Those were our mentors. Those are our people that really taught us how to win. And they gave us the heartaches.

When we got to go to the Finals and finally beat them, then I ran into another one of my mentors, which was Magic Johnson, who had let me become a student under him, learning how to win championships in the NBA, learning that Laker organization, learning that Celtic organization. And I’m sure all of you can look back and remember: You saw me at every NBA Finals game when the Celtics and the Lakers were playing. And not only was I there as a fan, but I was there as a student taking notes, learning how to win, how to put together an organization and, not just become a basketball player in the NBA, but become a champion.

And that’s what we became. We became a champion, and we were pretty dominant in our era.

Thomas’ description of Jordan’s and the Bulls’ place is correct in two ways – technically and barely.

By excluding 1991 – when Chicago beat the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, sparking Detroit’s infamous walk-off – Thomas set parameters that include the Pistons going 3-0 against the Bulls in playoff series. Thomas’ timeframe covered his prime. But it also includes 1989, when neither Magic Johnson nor Larry Bird were healthy in their teams’ series against Detroit. That’s inconsistent. Accurately defined, that era of Pistons basketball includes 1991.

Even restricting the period to 1984-1990, Detroit still faced Chicago in three playoff series. That’s fewer than against Bird’s Celtics (four), but more than against Johnson’s Lakers (two). Of course, those series against Los Angeles carried more weight in the NBA Finals. But most of those series against Jordan’s Bulls were hard fought.

It’s hard to believe Thomas didn’t intentionally craft the argument to slight Jordan and present Detroit’s accomplishments more favorably.

That said, Thomas had the Pistons aiming high throughout the 80s. Beat by the Celtics, Detroit was determined to best Boston. Beat by the Lakers, Detroit was determined to best Los Angeles. Thomas became obsessed with topping those teams because they were the standard-bearers – and he appreciated the bar they set. It made the Pistons better and, as he said, eventually champions.

It bothers Thomas that Jordan and the Bulls didn’t pay the same deference on their way up. Chicago whined and complained about Detroit. Even in “The Last Dance,” Jordan said he began lifting weights more strenuously to deal with the Bad Boys’ dirtiness. To Thomas, committing to training harder was just a natural step in a young team evolving to a champion.

That is what led to the Pistons walking off without shaking hands in 1991. They appreciated the champion Celtics and Lakers in a way the Bulls never reciprocated when Detroit became champions.

Disrespect begets disrespect. So, Thomas cuts off his timeframe before 1991, which was absolutely part of the Bad Boys era.

To put it most accurately: Joran and the Bulls were competition to Thomas and the Pistons. Thomas and Detroit looked up to view the Celtics and Lakers as competition, and the Celtics and Lakers looked back down and saw competition. Chicago looked up to the Pistons as competition, and the Pistons looked back down and saw competition – even if Thomas now strains himself not to admit it.

Report: NBA group stage could include 24 teams

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Bulls guard Zach LaVine
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The initial report on the NBA resuming with a group stage presented a 20-team scenario. There’d be four groups with five teams each – one from each tier of the current standings:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

Teams would play each other team in its group, and the top two finishers in each group would advance to an eight-team tournament (effectively the second round of the playoffs, though without conference splits).

But that format could apparently include four more teams.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

In brief, per several sources who have seen the league’s proposal: The NBA could take 20 (or 24) teams and divide them into groups

The simplest way to expand to 24 teams would be adding a sixth tier then forming four groups of six. That’d mean adding:

  • Tier 6: Suns, Wizards, Hornets, Bulls

Bleh.

The more games the NBA holds, the more money the league will make. But the more people involved, the more risk of someone contracting and spreading coronavirus. It’s a fine line, and the league has sought a middle ground.

Phoenix, Washington, Charlotte and Chicago strike me as too lousy to include. Those teams are well outside the normal playoff race, and there’s no good reason to believe they would’ve made a late push.

In this environment, they might have shot, though. Coronavirus increases variability. Players have had differing access to resources and differing motivation to train during the hiatus. Once play resumes, positive tests could be scattered randomly. Would anyone view the Suns, Wizards, Hornets or Bulls as deserving of a berth in the eight-team tournament? If one of those four teams qualified, that’d probably just show the setup was flawed.

The fairest way to set the playoffs is with 20 teams, depending on structure. Resuming with just 16 teams wouldn’t be that far behind. The highest financial upside comes with all 30 teams, but that seems infeasible.

Setting the line at 24 teams seems like the worst of most worlds – including four bad teams that wouldn’t generate much interest but would threaten to disrupt everything else.

Michael Porter Jr.: Pray for both George Floyd’s family and police officers involved in ‘this evil’

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. and Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Several NBA players posted about George Floyd, a black man who died after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer for about eight minutes.

Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. struck a different tone than most.

Porter:

Knicks forward Maurice Harkless:

Harkless, whose dismay was shared by many, is a seasoned veteran. Porter has made made rookie gaffes.

But I’m uncomfortable criticizing someone for calling for prayer for anyone. For some, prayer can be effective way to cope amid tragedy. Many believe prayer can change the world.

Porter didn’t say prayer alone should be the solution. In fact, he called the situation “evil” and “murder,” seemingly suggesting the need for criminal justice, too.

Basketball Hall of Fame delays enshrining Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Spurs forward Tim Duncan
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The Basketball Hall of Fame originally planned to induct Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in August.

But coronavirus interfered.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the board of the governors for the Hall, told ESPN Wednesday that enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, one of the most star-studded lineups ever which includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, will be moved to spring of 2021.

Colangelo stressed there will be separate ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, even though both events will now be held in the calendar year 2021. “We won’t be combining them,” he said. “The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration.”

I’m so glad each class will be honored separately. Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of this class – Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Patrick Baumann – deserve their own night.

So does Paul Pierce and whoever gets selected in the next class.

Life can end at any moment. Bryant’s death was a tragic reminder of that. But there’s no specific urgency here. The Hall of Fame should wait until it’s safe to hold a proper celebration of this class… then the next one.

NBA being sued for missed rent payments amid coronavirus shutdown

NBA Store
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The NBA has been sued by the owners of the building that houses the NBA Store, who say the league owes more than $1.2 million after not paying rent in April or May.

The league responded by saying it doesn’t believe the suit has merit, because it was forced to close the New York store due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBA Media Ventures, LLC is required to pay $625,000 of its $7.5 million annual fee on the first day of each month under teams of its lease with 535-545 FEE LLC, according to the suit filed Tuesday in New York.

The NBA entered into the lease agreement for the property at 545 Fifth Ave. in November 2014.

Counting other fees such as water, the owners of the building are seeking more than $1.25 million.

“Like other retail stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the NBA Store was required to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under those circumstances, we don’t believe these claims have any merit,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to work directly with our landlord to resolve this matter in a manner that is fair to all parties.”

The NBA suspended play on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in losses this season, even as it works toward trying to resume play in July.