Why Isiah Thomas was left off the Dream Team at 1992 Olympics

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On Sept. 21, 1991, the first 10 Dream Team players were announced. Isiah Thomas was not one of them. On May 12, 1992, the last two players were announced. Again, no Thomas.

Thomas, who led the Detroit Pistons to NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, who was an NBA All-Star Game starter in February 1992, whose coach, Chuck Daly, was the Barcelona Olympic head coach, was left off the greatest collection of NBA superstars.

Many believed Michael Jordan had something to do with it, given his icy relationship with Thomas. This long-held belief is back in the news after the most recent episodes of “The Last Dance” documentary series on the Chicago Bulls on ESPN.

How big of a deal was the Thomas omission nearly three decades ago?

Well, on the NBC selection show for the first 10, Marv Albert sat down with Jordan after Jordan was announced, perhaps for dramatic effect, as the 10th and final player in the first round of announcements.

Albert asked Jordan three questions. Two were about Thomas’ omission.

“If I had anything to do with the selection, then I would have picked my brother, my sister, my whole family to take to Barcelona,” Jordan said that day. “I didn’t have anything to do with it. Isiah Thomas and my relationship has nothing to do with me being on this team. I think a lot of things are being blown out of proportion because of him not being selected, at this particular time, I think there’s still two spots open and there’s still a possibility that he may be selected. I think it’s being blown out of proportion, and certainly, fingers are being pointed at me because of our relationship and, of course, about the way the end of the game between Detroit and Chicago ended [some Pistons, including Thomas, walking off the court with 7.9 seconds left of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals]. I don’t think it has anything to do with our relationship. That’s something that really bothers me to a certain extent.”

Albert followed up, asking if Jordan issued an ultimatum. Did Jordan say he wouldn’t play if Thomas was on the team? No, Jordan said.

That is what has been disputed.

Longtime Sports Illustrated NBA writer Jack McCallum reported in his 2012 book, “Dream Team,” that Jordan told selection committee member (and the former Chicago Bulls GM who drafted him) Rod Thorn, “I don’t want to play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.”

DREAM TEAM: Why Isiah Was Left Off | Jordan Nearly Said No | Roster Decisions
The Kukoc Game | MJ’s 1996 Olympic Choice

On Wednesday, Thorn denied that.

“There was never anything in my conversation with [Jordan] that had to do with Isiah Thomas, period,” Thorn said on ESPN’s Golic & Wingo. “He said, ‘I’ll do it.’ … Isiah’s name never came up during that conversation. He never backtracked and said he didn’t want to do it from that time on, to those of us in the NBA office.”

Jordan, in a 2012 NBA TV documentary, said he received “strong innuendos” coming from “higher places” that didn’t want Thomas on the team.

“That was one of the stipulations put to me prior to me even committing that Isiah wasn’t a part of the team,” he said.

Daly was not part of the selection committee.

“Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics,” Magic Johnson said in “When the Game was Ours,” a book he wrote with Jackie MacMullan and Larry Bird. “Nobody on the team wanted to play with him.”

It meant plenty that the statement came from Johnson, an openly close friend of Thomas in the 1980s. By the end of 1991, Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons had alienated some in the NBA, including Jordan, after a series of events.

-The theory that Thomas conspired a freeze-out of Jordan at the 1985 All-Star Game.
-At the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Thomas’ involvement after then-teammate Dennis Rodman called Bird “overrated” and that he won three straight MVPs “because he was white.”
-The Pistons’ trademark physical play, notably against the Bulls, and most notably on Jordan.
-The walk-out in the 1991 East Finals, four months before the first 10 Dream Team players were announced.
-For Johnson, that Thomas questioned his sexuality after announcing he was HIV positive in November 1991.

An argument can also be made that Thomas didn’t merit a spot on form at that time, perhaps in comparison to John Stockton as the other point guard after Johnson. Thomas’ last All-NBA selection — for a first, second or third team — was in 1987. Every member of the Dream Team was an All-NBA first- or second-team member in 1991 or 1992, save Duke’s Christian Laettner and Bird.

“If I’m not a part of the Dream Team because a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone’s hand — if that’s the reason why I didn’t make the Dream Team, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then when I wasn’t selected.” Thomas said on ESPN’s “Get Up” on Monday, noting he also missed the 1980 Olympics, having been named to a team after the U.S. boycott was announced. “The only thing that’s missing from my resume is not being on the Dream Team. … I still don’t know who did it or why they say I didn’t make it.”

MORE: Michael Jordan’s note to Bobby Knight before 1984 Olympic final

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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