New audio adds fuel to Michael Jordan-Isiah Thomas Dream Team rift

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary is done, but the controversy about some of the issues raised in the 10-part series still linger after the final episode aired last week.

One of the big story lines centered around Michael Jordan and Pistons icon Isiah Thomas and whether Jordan had a hand in assuring that Thomas was kept off the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team.

Pistons guard Isiah Thomas (11) didn't get along well with Bulls star Michael Jordan.

In the documentary, Jordan claimed that he didn’t keep Thomas off the team, which was coached by Pistons coach Chuck Daly. There’s more evidence to suggest that he may have had some say in whether Thomas made the final roster, which was decided by Rod Thorn, an NBA executive who was part of the USA Basketball selection committee.  

In his “The Dream Team Tapes” podcast, noted sportswriter Jack McCallum released audio that he said is Jordan talking about the issue in 2011, as McCallum was working on his book about the Dream Team.  

“I wondered how I would nudge the convo to Isiah Thomas,” McCallum said. “Against all odds, Jordan went there himself — suddenly and without warning.”

On McCallum’s recording, Jordan allegedly said, “When Rod Thorn called me, I said, ‘Rod, I won’t play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.’ (Thorn) assured me, ‘Chuck (Daly) doesn’t want Isiah, so Isiah’s not going to be part of the team.’”

More: Pistons great Isiah Thomas still disappointed over '92 Dream Team snub

More: 'We did what we had to do': Pistons make no apologies for 'Last Dance' portrayal

The Pistons were the two-time defending champions when the Bulls won their first title in 1991, marking a shift in the league’s power structure, with Jordan atop the throne.

McCallum noted that there were more forces at work than just Jordan, though.

“No matter what you heard, there was never much of a chance for Isiah Thomas to make the Dream Team, for this reason mainly: Michael Jordan did not want him,” McCallum said. “I wrote that back in 1992 because a source close to the situation — not Jordan himself — told me that was the case.”

Even Daly, who was hailed for managing the personalities of the legendary roster, wasn’t an obvious pick to be the coach, according to McCallum. Pat Riley and Don Nelson also were options, but Daly ultimately got the nod.

“I wouldn’t say Chuck was a unanimous choice, but he was certainly a popular one,” McCallum said. “In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine the Dream Team without Chuck.”

There’s a suggestion that Daly may have had a say in keeping Thomas off the Dream Team as well.

“Though no players had been selected, Chuck knew in his heart of hearts that selling his captain, Isiah Thomas, to the committee would be difficult because of some of the poisonous relationships that Isiah had built up over the years,” McCallum said.  

Thomas had a rocky relationship with many of the members of the Dream Team, including the Bulls’ Scottie Pippen and Jordan, along with Larry Bird, Karl Malone and even Magic Johnson. McCallum suggests that Johnson may have been one of the bigger voices on the team, and along with Jordan that wave of negative sentiment was more than enough to choose another option.

John Stockton was a somewhat controversial choice over Thomas, whose career production had started to wane by the time the 1992 Olympics came. With the final roster selections, Johnson had lobbied in a public statement for Thomas to be added, though that could be bluster instead of genuine backing.

“I sincerely hope the selection committee awards one of the final two remaining roster positions to Isiah. I say this not because Isiah is my friend, but because I believe he will assist the team in winning the gold medal,” Johnson wrote in a statement.  

But according to McCallum, Johnson and Thomas were already on the outs.

"Magic didn’t want Isiah on the team either — and he could have been considered Isiah’s greatest ally,” McCallum said.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard