‘When we were all young and healthy from 84-90, the numbers speak for themselves, Michael wasn’t really my competition. My competition was Bird and Magic.’
This was Isiah Thomas back in May, and he caught a lot of criticism for it. But a Hall of Fame point guard is back at it again, providing a spark that will once again reignite one of the NBA’s biggest feuds. And this time, he took it a step further.
Let’s look at Isiah’s head to head record with MJ. The two have faced each other 43 times during the regular seasons. Thomas’ team came out on top 24 times, and Jordan’s Bulls did it 19 times. In terms of their individual outputs, both Michael and Isiah were extra inspired when matched up against each other, putting up career-average-exceeding numbers. Jordan averaged 31.6/6.2/5.5, and Zeke put up 21.3/3.8/9.3.
But let’s stick to the parameters Isiah has set, and look at their head-to-head until his ‘career-ending injury’ in ’91. In 36 games played, Thomas and the Pistons beat MJ and the Bulls 24 times, while Chicago came out victorious in 12 of those games. That means that, during Zeke’s prime years, he beat Michael in 61% of the regular season games the two have played against each other.
In terms of their postseason matchups, the overall record is again in favor of Isiah, as he and Detroit won 12 of 22 games played against Chicago, with the final four being the first and only time the Bulls beat The Bad Boy Pistons. This matches the timeframe Thomas’ has set, as all of their playoff clashes took place during Isiah’s prime. But unlike their matchups during the regular seasons, Zeke’s playoff output against the Bulls was good, not above his career averages. Jordan’s, however, was.
So in terms of them going up against each other on an individual level, there was definitely a lot of competition between the two during that eight-year stretch. But what has to be given to Isiah that, during his prime, Jordan wasn’t the guy to beat for him, and neither were the Bulls. His focus was on Dr.J’s 76ers, Bird’s Celtics, Magic’s and Kareem’s Lakers. The same way Jordan’s focus was on trying to overcome the hurdle called the Detroit Pistons, after getting bounced by them for three-straight postseason runs.
That’s where Isiah is right. They were the ones being hunted, and MJ and the Bulls were doing the hunting. And they finally tamed the Pistons in ’91, after years of hitting the same wall. Up until that point, it was all about the group from Michigan. At least when you look at Chicago-Detroit head-to-head matchups.