Former Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas has reignited his feud with Michael Jordan, suggesting that he was a better player than the Chicago Bulls legend.
Thomas and Jordan embodied one of the most bitter rivalries in the NBA, where the Pistons and the Bulls literally clashed four times in the postseason between 1988 and 1991.
The Pistons sent the Bulls 4-1 in the 1988 Eastern Conference semi-final before defeating the Bulls in six games a year later and seven games in the 1990 Eastern Conference final.
Detroit won the NBA titles in 1989 and 1990 in a row, with Thomas making the final round of the latter series an MVP before Chicago cast out their demons by sweeping the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals.
After swimming past their fierce rivals, the Bulls defeated the Lakers in the finals to claim their first NBA championship. Five more followed in the next seven seasons.
Jordan established himself as the biggest player in the NBA when the Bulls played their two triple plays, but Thomas believes he was better than the six-time NBA champion in one phase.
“Just head to head, I was superior to him,” the Detroit Pistons legend said Tuesday night at a performance at Club Shay Shay with Fox Sports host Shannon Sharpe.
“Up until ’91, when I basically had a wrist operation that ended my career, my record against him and his team was – it really wasn’t a competition there.
The Pistons’ back-to-back titles ranged from the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics dynasties of the 1980s to the Bulls’ first three-way competition in the early 1990s.
While Chicago were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in each of Jordan’s first three seasons in the league, Detroit reached the Eastern Conference final in 1987 and lost to Boston.
The following season, the Pistons dethroned the Celtics, only to lose to the Lakers in the NBA finals before taking revenge at the 1989 Purple and Gold Awards.
In conversation with Sharpe, Thomas insisted that Celtics star Larry Bird and Lakers duo Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the main obstacles between him and an NBA title.
“He just wasn’t my competition,” he explained. “My focus was Bird, Magic, Dr. J [Julius Erving], Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“Those were the guys. I don’t care what the others say. You can go back and look at the story – that was the guys.”
The rivalry between the Bulls and the Pistons was re-examined in episodes 3 and 4 of The Last Dance, the 10-part ESPN documentary about Jordan’s last season with the Bulls, which premiered in late April.
Jordan admitted that he still harbors hostility toward his former rivals.
“Oh, I hated them,” Jordan said in episode three, “and that hatred continues to this day.”
Under coach Chuck Daly, the Pistons adopted a “win-at-all-costs” mentality and quickly gave the “bad boys” the Monicker.
With Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, John Salley, James Edwards and Dennis Rodman – who joined the Bulls in 1995 – the Pistons had a group of players who were only too happy to take a robust, confrontational approach.
Detroit’s offensive style, aimed at restricting Jordan, became known as “The Jordan Rules,” and six-time NBA finalist MVP admitted that there was no lost love in the series against Detroit.
“They made it personal,” Jordan said. “They beat us physically devastating.”