Isiah Thomas not getting a spot on the Dream Team will always be the most controversial snub in Team USA history. Some say Michael Jordan made sure Zeke wasn’t on the team; others say it was actually Magic Johnson who insisted Thomas didn’t make the roster. In the shadows of that decision was another one that seemed like a snub. The decision was made that one college player was going to make the team, and Christian Laettner got the spot.
Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t happy about that at the time but is real about the fact Laettner was the right choice. In addition to that situation, Shaq shared his insight into the Thomas snub and named a third person Isiah actually holds responsible.
”That white boy ate me up“
The Dream Team represented a quantum leap in Team USA’s trajectory. Up until that point, professional players didn’t participate in international tournaments; it was all college players. Getting NBA stars to sacrifice their summer and play for their country was revolutionary, and everyone was for it. Well, almost everyone.
The change meant college players lost a huge opportunity to play on a big stage. To appease that part of the basketball community, a decision was made to save one spot on the team. The lucky passenger on the most dominant basketball team ever was Christian Laettner, and Shaq acknowledges it was the right choice to make, despite the fact he had just been selected no.1 in the Draft.
“I was mad, but it gave me more motivation to be better. I was very upset. But then...let me tell you something about my father and uncle Jerome. They were real, said, 'Hey man, he won two in college, what'd you do?'”
Shaquille O'Neal, Icons Club
Laettner went on to have a underwhelming career, given the expectations he arrived with, as a two-time NCAA champion and a member of the Dream Team. He bounced around the league, playing for six teams in his 13 years in the Association. Shaq might've lost their college matchups, but if those ever start hurting, all O'Neal has to do is go polish his championship rings.
“Just put it this way - he hates Scottie Pippen.”
Shaq considers Isiah Thomas a mentor and a friend. As MacMullan points out in her podcast, O'Neal asked Isiah to be one of the people to induct him into the Hall of Fame - there’s a lot of respect and a true friendship there. Still, Shaq didn’t want to speak in Thomas’ name about the Dream Team snub but did point us in a certain direction.
“I don't want to repeat what he said, but he thinks there was some trickery involved in that. A couple of people didn't want him. Just put it this way - he hates Scottie Pippen.”
Shaquille O'Neal, Icons Club
For a long time, the story was that Jordan told Rod Thorn he’d only play if Isiah Thomas wasn’t on the team. MJ denied it on “The Last Dance,” but then Jack MacCallum shared a recording of a conversation with Jordan in which MJ clearly says “Rod, I won’t play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.”
Then John Salley came out and reminded everyone that Magic Johnson was the one who blocked Thomas on the Dream Team and even confirmed that in his documentary. It’s no secret that a lot of people didn’t like Thomas, and he understands that. But the Pippen thing is definitely true, and Zeke himself explained why.
On basketball merit, Thomas should’ve been on the Dream Team, no question about it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t (and still isn’t) the only/main criteria when Team USA is assembled. Thomas obviously made his peace with the greatest players in history icing him from the team - he just doesn’t feel Scottie Pippen earned a vote in such a discussion.