It was all about bitterness in Isiah Thomas’s life before the opening of the 1991/92 NBA season.
When the list of the 1992 Dream Team members was publicly announced on September 21st, 1991, his name wasn’t on the list. Instead, the Utah Jazz’s savvy All-Star point guard John Stockton made it among top 12 US players.
Isiah knew all about Stockton’s accomplishments – the longtime league leader in assists made the All-NBA team and Western Conference All-Star team every single year from 1988 to 1991. Isiah led the league in assists only once, in 1984/85, when his 13.9 dimes per game set an NBA record for the highest single-season average ever, before Stockton set the new record with 14.5 in 1989-90.
But Thomas, on the other hand, went all the way to the top, being voted as the NBA All-Star game MVP (1984, 1986) before leading the Pistons to back-to-back NBA championship titles in 1989 and 1990.
Thomas, a brilliant point guard, didn’t get the chance to compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the U.S. Olympic boycott. So the fact that he wouldn’t be able to crown his stellar basketball career with a gold medal from the historic 1992 Barcelona Olympics was even more hurtful.
Some of the leading names in the game ‘froze’ Thomas out of participating in the 1992 Dream Team – Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, but even a 5th year pro by the name Scottie Pippen. Both Jordan and Pippen didn’t want Thomas on the team as there was obvious friction between them, mostly because of the famous rivalry Bulls and Pistons had during those years.
“I despised how he played the game, Isiah was the general, he was the guy who would yap at his teammates and say ‘Kick them on their ass. Do whatever you have to do.’ No, I didn’t want him on the Dream Team. – Scottie Pippen”
Thomas would later say he thinks it Pippen not wanting him on the team is ridiculous. According to Thomas, it’s one thing when Jordan doesn’t want you there, but obviously, he doesn’t hold Pippen to such high regard.
“If Jordan is like ‘Look I’m not playing if Isiah plays.’ OK. Aiight. But Scottie Pippen ‘I’m not playing if Isiah play’, man, go to the park. – Isiah Thomas”
However, back then, Isiah didn’t know exactly who was to blame for an awkward USA Basketball decision, which is still controversial. The most likely choice was Stockton, the Jazz’s point guard who took his place. The opportunity to shine and prove who was the better of the two was just around the corner. On November 15th, 1991, Isiah’s Detroit Pistons hosted the Utah Jazz in the Palace of Auburn Hills.
That night in Motown, it was all about sweet revenge for the 6’1″ Baby-Faced Assassin. That night in Detroit, Thomas, who before the 1991/92 NBA season still had 1192 career assists more than Stockton (7431 vs. 6239), put on a memorable show, literally ‘owning’ Stockton.
While amazing the cheerful Pistons’ fans with his world-known razzle-dazzle dribbling moves, Zeke would go on to score 44 points in 42 minutes of action. Thomas made 15-22 of his field goals, while also converting 12 out of 16 trips to the charity stripe. He also contributed four boards and four dimes to the Pistons’ 123-115 win over Jazz.
Twenty-nine days later, on December 14th, 1991, the Utah Jazz hosted the Pistons. That time in Salt Lake City, it would be Stockton’s teammate and Dream Team member, Karl Malone, who roughly grounded Isiah.
Thomas put a move on Stockton and Eaton and was about to finish his drive to the basket when The Mailman appeared in the lane, jumped in, and forcefully bumped Thomas, who fell onto the floor. That resulted in 40 stiched Thomas had to get after the game.
From today’s perspective, many believe that Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, and Shaquille O’Neal were unjustly left off the roster of the 1992 Dream Team. Today, both Thomas and Stockton, along with Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, are the only NBA players who dished out more than 9,000 assists throughout their respective careers.
Basketball Network contributor Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is the 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist, proud author of the Amazon.com TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’.