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Isiah Thomas eager to see 'Bad Boys' portrayal in Michael Jordan docuseries

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

While sports are on hiatus and networks have resorted to replaying classic games and moments from previous decades, there is some relief on the way.

ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan’s career with a focus on his final season with the Chicago Bulls, is set to debut on Sunday night. That’s almost two months ahead of the original release date — a welcome development as most of the country is homebound by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a mammoth undertaking for director Jason Hehir, who used more than 100 interviews for the series that highlights the 1997-98 season, the sixth NBA championship of Jordan’s career.

Isiah Thomas and the Pistons were a hurdle Michael Jordan's Bulls had to overcome in the early 1990s.

One of those highly anticipated interviews is with Pistons Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas, who led Detroit to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990 — the two seasons preceding the Bulls’ first three championships.

The “Bad Boys” Pistons teams that included Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer are renowned as the group that Jordan and the Bulls had to overcome to achieve their greatness.

More: Lions' Calvin Johnson, Pistons greats headline MSHOF ballot

Thomas is looking forward to the release of the documentary series and is hoping that more than the typical narrative about the "Bad Boys" Pistons team is presented.

“We competed and beat their team but that doesn’t mean we didn’t respect and admire (Jordan) as a player,” Thomas told The Detroit News. “I was in a few (interviews) and I’m looking forward to it also. I tried to be as accurate and truthful with the statements and comments.

“I hope the full content of what I was trying to express in the admiration we all had for him as a player is shown from my comments. All of us who talked about him talked about how we admired how great a player he was — and we couldn’t stop him other than to double- or triple-team him.”

The Pistons-Bulls rivalry is one of the most intense of that era and the term “Jordan Rules” derives from the Pistons’ specific strategy of defending the Bulls superstar. The physicality during those head-to-head series in that span shows the competitive spirit from both teams trying to win an NBA title.

One of the bigger controversies arising from the Pistons-Bulls rivalry was the notion that Jordan was instrumental in keeping Thomas off the Dream Team for the 1992 Olympics. Thomas tried to clear the air about Jordan’s involvement.

“(ESPN) asked me about the Dream Team and this is what I said: MJ himself, I’ve never heard him say he didn’t want me to play. I’ve heard people say it for him,” Thomas said. “Every time I’ve been around (Jordan), he’s been gracious and honorable, and I respect his word.

“We were all pretty brash when we were young and none of us bit our tongues. I can’t find or see anywhere that he said it. I’ve seen where other people said what he supposedly said. I can’t find one quote where anybody said anything negative about me — and believe me, I’ve checked. All I can do is take the man at his word.”

More: Q&A with Isiah Thomas: Bad Boys culture didn't need to change

Another point of contention between the two is that Thomas didn’t shake Jordan’s hand after the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, which would have been a symbolic passing of the torch from the champions to the heir apparent Bulls.

It was a rough series and history has cast the Pistons as the villains. It’s a reprise from the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics.

“It’s funny how people will say, ‘Isiah didn’t shake (Jordan’s) hand.’ When we beat Boston, (Larry) Bird didn’t shake none of our hands,” Thomas said. “I find it interesting the target shifts and the narrative changes.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard