Perhaps the most amazing part of the NBA’s documentary of the Dream Team that aired Wednesday night was that Isiah Thomas has now become a sympathetic figure.
Thomas actually released a statement after the show aired and addressed not making the Dream Team in 1992.
Now I have to say my first reaction was pretty straightforward:
A statement in 2012 about not making a team in 1992?
Are we still talking about this?
Beyond that, I kind of felt sorry for the guy. The fact that it’s an issue 20 years later is outrageous. But it is obviously part of the cultural phenomenon that was and is the Dream Team.
I had the good fortune to be one of only a handful of reporters who covered the team from the first day of training camp until the last day of the Olympics while I was working for Newsday in 1992. So in honor of the 20-year anniversary, here is the first in what could be a series of 20 memories about various issues surrounding the Dream Team.
Part One: The Isiah Thomas Exclusion.
1. From Day 1 when the story broke that the selection committee had not invited Thomas, the speculation was that Michael Jordan kept him off the team. In the Dream Team documentary, however, Jordan said he was told even before he committed that Thomas would not be on the team and “I was getting strong innuendo that it was coming from higher places that didn’t want Isiah Thomas on the team.”
2. And that is true. It wasn’t only the enemies that Thomas had made. He had as many friends on the selection committee as anyone, including Detroit general manager Jack McCloskey. But he had little support. No one fought for him to be on the team.
3. In what has to be one of the greatest misjudgments by any member of any front office in NBA history, when the first 10 players were announced, McCloskey said not being on the team would not be that big of a deal to Thomas. I was at the NBA league meetings in Palm Springs and after they ended, I found McCloskey at the pool and asked him about Thomas’ exclusion.
“Isiah is above all of that,” McCloskey said in an interview that was recorded. “He can handle it. There’s going to be some great players that are not going to be on that team. … It may be a disappointment to some, but they’ve got to learn to live with those things.”
4. Later, McCloskey discovered how wrong he was because Thomas was incensed. So McCloskey resigned from the committee in protest because it was an insult that Thomas had not made the team! McCloskey simply was not going to take that! It was a matter of principle!
It was, however, a grandstand play that was really not grand at all.
5. The late Chuck Daly was the Pistons coach and head coach of the 1992 Olympic team. He did not have a vote on the selection committee, but one influential member of the committee told me, “If Chuck had come in and demanded Isiah to be on the team, he would have been on the team.” Daly did not do that.
6. I wrote a column at the time saying that it wasn’t enemies who kept Thomas off the team, it was friends. The next time I saw Dave Gavitt, who was the head of USA Basketball, he pulled me aside and said, “You hit that right on the button. I made copies of your column and faxed it to every member of the committee.”
7. Rod Thorn and Russ Granik, both high-ranking NBA executives at the time, pointed out in the documentary that the selection committee began making decisions shortly after the 1991 NBA playoffs. That’s when Thomas led a group of Pistons off the court when it was obvious the Bulls were going to sweep their Eastern Conference finals series. It was repugnant sportsmanship and who could have possibly been excited about that sort of mentality on an Olympic team?
8. Ah yes, we have heard and witnessed so much of the Michael Jordan competitiveness, and theree several funny moments in the documentary. But after writing all of the above, I do have to report that in Jack McCallum’s book on the Dream Team, which will be released next month (and can be preordered here – you’re welcome, Jack) , Jordan takes full credit for keeping Thomas off the team.
9. That is vintage Michael. He and Thomas have despised each other since 1985 and the infamous All-Star freeze-out (which colleague Mark Heisler wrote about here). After being eliminated for three straight years by Detroit, Jordan and the Bulls won in 1991, and Thomas and the Pistons did their little walk-off, which proved to be quite large. At that point, Jordan gained the upper hand. And when Michael has the upper hand, he’ll use it. So now he revels in keeping Thomas off the team.
(To see the rest of the article on Sheridanhoops.com, click here.