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

Leave a comment

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!