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Isiah Thomas regrets handshake snub of Bulls

Isiah Thomas, in a discussion for NBA TV, was asked whether he would shake hands with the Bulls after the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals if he could re-do it.

“Absolutely,” Thomas said. “Now, and the reason why I would, is because looking back in terms of what has happened, had I had a chance to do it all over again, we should have. We should have took the high road.”

I’m glad Thomas said this.

The Pistons were wrong for snubbing the Bulls, and I’m glad to hear Thomas admit it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that the Pistons did it, and it’s one of my favorite stories of Bad Boys lore.

But it went beyond the typical Bad Boys thuggery and made them look like sore losers.

Now, it’s also easy to understand why the Pistons did it.

For one, the Celtics refused to shake Detroit’s hands a few years prior in the same situation. (Kevin McHale, who told the Pistons to beat the Lakers in the Finals, was a Joe Dumars-like exception. McHale’s noble well wishes were caught on camera and replayed rather than scenes of the other Celtics snubbing Detroit.)

More importantly, the Bulls were trashing the Pistons in the media. The Bulls called the Pistons unworthy champions and bad for the league, unfair and over-the-top criticism that deserved strong rebuke.

Want respect? Give respect. Chicago didn’t honor that code.

However, as Thomas notes now, the Pistons should have just shaken hands and they could have claimed the moral high ground for all of history. Instead, the episode is usually treated as the Pistons being wrong. Occasionally, it’s presented as both sides rolling in the mud together, but it’s never seen as Chicago deserving more blame.

Thomas admitting a mistake probably won’t change the narrative, but it should, at least somewhat.

Now, maybe the Bulls will do the classy thing and say they regret wrongly besmirching the Pistons.

Yeah, right.


  • Oct 4, 20135:44 pm
    by Ryan


    I understand taking the high road but I also understand how hard that would’ve been. I was only involved as a fan and I HATE those mfers from Chicago imagine how the Pistons must feel about them. Watching the clip of them walking off my first thought was I wish they’d beat them again and walked off without shaking their hands. Fuck Chicago and their fans.

  • Oct 4, 20135:53 pm
    by Jackson


    The Pistons beat the Jordan Bulls 3 times in the playoffs and they beat the Pistons only once. The Bulls have never acknowledged the greatness of that Pistons team and how that rivalry helped mold that Bulls team. The hatred and vitriol they had for the Pistons provided plenty of motivation for Jordan and it took him years before he could conquer that Pistons team. There was no other team that Jordan struggled to beat and he only did it once. “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” Jordan has the Pistons to thank for his adversity!
    1991 — lost to Chicago, 4-0, conference finals
    1990 — defeated Chicago, 4-3, conference finals
    1989 — defeated Chicago, 4-2, conference finals
    1988 — defeated Chicago, 4-1, conference semifinals

    • Oct 4, 20136:01 pm
      by Hardy


      I am glad you had those series to give those who remember that Chicago had to earn it the right way as did the Pistons going against the Celtics.

    • Oct 7, 20139:10 am
      by tarsier


      Head to head records between teams in the playoffs are among the most meaningless figures you can throw out there. Because a team can bolster its head-to-head record by losing earlier in the playoffs and never meeting the other team.

      Compare how far teams got in the playoffs each year, not how they did against each other. 

      • Oct 7, 20132:07 pm
        by Max


        Wow, you really know how to take the piss out of everything.   Ask Jordan if losing to the Pistons in three straight series was meaningless.  

        • Oct 7, 20132:59 pm
          by tarsier


          Of course it was, but ask him if it matters that he didn’t have to go through Detroit for most of his championships. Ask him if that means that, over his career, Detroit owned him.

          • Oct 7, 201310:11 pm
            by Max

            I don’t have to ask him to know my own opinion which is that Jordan never had to beat a truly great team to win any of his championships- other than maybe that Pistons team though they appeared to be out of gas.  He never had to go through Magic’s Lakers with Kareem or Bird’s Celtics like they and the Pistons had to go through each other–he never dethroned a true champion team or took on a future champion team except when he beat the Pistons.   Also, the player who should have been the second best player of his championship winning era, Magic Johnson, dropped out of the league due to prejudice against his HIV infection after Jordan’s first ring.  Imagine how many titles Duncan or Shaq would have won if the other had not played during their mutual primes.   There was a period when the two of them combined for 8 out of 9 titles and either probably would have won all or most of the others the other won without the other’s presence.    Anyway, fuck Jordan.  


          • Oct 8, 201310:12 am
            by tarsier

            The fact that he dodged the phenomenal teams right before him is part of why Jordan is overrated. We are in agreement there. But you are really selling short the Malone-Stockton Jazz. They weren’t an all-time great team. But they were very, very good. And it’s not Jordan’s fault that the competition faded a bit. You can only beat who you get to play. And almost all championships came without an all-time great team in the way because there are rarely multiple of those.

            One could use your reasoning to say the Bad Boys never took theirs from really great teams because they got the Celtics and Lakers after they’d faded a bit and before the Bulls peaked. It would be bogus because at the time, those were all still incredible teams (although not quite the best ever versions of themselves), but it would be a fair counterpoint.

            As for your Shaq/Duncan analogy, no, neither one of them would have won most of those titles without the other’s presence. Especially Shaq. He only got bumped one contending year by the Spurs (2003). And if Duncan wasn’t in the league, he would probably have had to go through incredibly tough Sacramento, Dallas, and New Jersey teams. He had at best a 25% shot at getting through that gauntlet. Duncan probably would have had one more ring if not for Shaq in either 2001 or 2002. But what other year do you honestly think the Spurs would have made it all the way if Shaq wasn’t around? Do you think they would have taken the ‘ship in 2004? Because that’s the only other time Shaq bounced him.

  • Oct 4, 20136:18 pm
    by Hook Shot


    I can’t say it any other way. $&!!! The Bulls and MJ. Shaking hands might have been the right thing to do biit no respect has evr been paid by the Bulls in general or MJ to how good the Pistoms really were at the time. It was Stern’s league then and now. He is responsible for the NBA resembling the WWF at times with near predetermined outcomes. Isaiah is walking this back for posterity. No one really cares if he apologizes or not(which is sad). 

  • Oct 4, 20136:19 pm
    by The Guru


    Isiah is saying this because he’s grown older and wiser, I can definitely respect that…We all do dumb things when we are younger, but I wouldn’t regret anything I’ve done…That’s called life!..You live and learn…
    Go Pistons!..

  • Oct 4, 20138:46 pm
    by Junior


    Sigh….These were the days..

  • Oct 4, 20138:51 pm
    by Kamal


    I hate those Bulls teams. Jordan talks all that shit about Isiah and the Pistons but never mentions the Knicks. I wonder why. Is it because he always beat the Knicks? The Knicks were much worse than the pistons in my opinion because they didn’t have the talent to go along with the muscle. They were just bruisers. 

    The the only reason why the not shaking hands thing is a big deal is because it was against Michael Jordan. KG, Rondo, Lebron don’t shake hands and it ain’t a big deal. Isiah and the Pistons don’t shake hands and we’re still talking about 22 years later. 

  • Oct 5, 201312:18 am
    by Gordbrown


    What I remember about that series was that the refs were totally in the bag for Chicago. I think that was also a factor and should be noted.

  • Oct 5, 20139:23 am
    by Ron


    Refs were in the bag for Chicago? um, Chicago swept the pistons, so how many games did the refs give away??

    • Oct 5, 20139:37 am
      by Gordbrown


      At least two, which would have made it a series

      • Oct 5, 201312:38 pm
        by Max


        Even games that weren’t close seemed to get out of hand due the refs.  Jordan was great but the refs helped him more than any player.

        • Oct 7, 20139:23 am
          by tarsier


          Players who want to win play in such a way as to get favorable whistles.

          Personally, I think the very idea of trying to draw a foul while shooting is the epitome of poor sportsmanship. If you are trying to get bumped (a la Paul Pierce jumping into a defender in the air), you shouldn’t get a whistle, the defender let you do exactly what you were trying to do. The point of fouls should be for when the defender prevents you from doing something they aren’t allowed to prevent you from doing (like raising your arms).

          But as long as the rules are the way they are, it would be stupid for a player to not try to get to the line.

          However, Jordan vs the bad boys was not like the Pierce example or Durant’s arm sweep or Harden’s arm extension, all designed to catch fouls rather than to put the ball in the ole. The bad boys were just plain dirty. They didn’t accidentally hit players by making plays on the ball. They tried to send messages to players that playing good, aggressive basketball would be a painful proposition. If anything, they got helped by the refs because they should have faced a lot more ejections. I don’t understand why the league ever had any tolerance for hitting a player without a play on the ball.

          • Oct 7, 20132:12 pm
            by Max

            Jordan didn’t just get the refs help against the Pistons though.  They helped out with every team he faced.  They wouldn’t even give him a technical when he got in their faces and screamed at them.  This was back in the day of rough play and handchecking and players weren’t allowed to breath on Michael Jordan.  It was a totally different standard than how any other player in the entire league was treated and it was noted by many who watched.  It was so obvious that mainstream comedians made jokes about it and the audiences laughed their agreement.  

          • Oct 7, 20133:15 pm
            by tarsier

            It’s true that Jordan got lots of whistles, but my point is that he learned to master the art of playing in such a way that would get calls.

            Do some players get calls more easily than others? Absolutely. Heck, without any ref bias whatsoever, that will still happen by random chance (like getting a “hot hand” happens).

            I would not argue that there was no internal bias in the refs causing them to give Jordan calls more readily. But how do you separate that from his being better at moving in the right way to get the call? You can say another player in the exact same situation wouldn’t get the call, but you can’t really know because no two situations are exactly the same. Also, plenty of others got bogus “breathing on them” calls too. But we don’t remember those because they don’t already have a reputation that can play to our confirmation biases (hence how any misstep by James late in games still makes people come out in droves to call him a choke artist).

            What do you honestly think is more likely: that a ref would be trying to hand games to the Bulls or that Jordan would master playing in the correct manner to get calls? 

          • Oct 7, 201310:27 pm
            by Max

            Dude, you sound like someone who is theorizing about basketball in the abstract rather than someone who took in Jordan or his era.   When the refs didn’t call techs on Jordan ever when Jordan would consistently embarrass them by screaming at them and dressing them down every time they called anything on him, that wasn’t mastering the art of anything other than leveraging his intimidation factor as Stern and the NBA’s golden boy.  Or who knows?–maybe the refs were in awe of him.  Either way it was a clear double standard and had nothing to do with confirmation bias.   There have been many players who got the benefit or doubt of a double standard but the most flagrant cases are easy to see.  Jordan got the most benefit by far of any player I’ve ever seen and it wasn’t harder for nearly anyone to spot at the time and no less obvious than seeing how the refs would often give Rasheed techs that no one else would get in the same case—I’ve seen Rasheed teched up for just looking in a ref’s direction after a call and that kind of thing never happened to anyone but him or Rodman.  

            Also, stop with the Bad Boys bullshit.  You clearly don’t understand the era they played in or the eras before it.  They were not nearly as dirty as the average team in the decades previous and didn’t do anything Bird’s Celtics didn’t do.   Bird, McHale and Parish might have been the best front line of all time but they were also one of the likeliest front lines to all punch you in the face of all time.  Russell threw more than his share of punches too.  The Pistons got a bad wrap because they stood in the way of Jordan and the outcome the NBA was drooling for at the time and because they had a few players who unabashedly were willing to wear the black hat.   Karl Malone and John Stockton were as dirty or dirtier than anyone on the Bad Boys but were never portrayed that way because it would have conflicted with the NBA’s marketing machine.  The players revealed it clearly though when they voted Malone and Stockton the #1 and 2 dirtiest players in the league several times via the players pole and Rodman was in the league at the time.  

          • Oct 8, 201310:18 am
            by tarsier

            I don’t disagree that there were other dirty players. Just that the bad boys were probably the dirtiest top to bottom. Because with them, it wasn’t a couple guys, it was the whole team.

            That said, I love the Bad Boys. They capitalized on what they could do in their era and you can’t ask anything more. I just also happen to be happy that that style of play is no longer considered acceptable. It was terrible sportsmanship. 

        • Oct 7, 20139:25 am
          by tarsier


          All that said, Jordan is overrated.

  • Oct 5, 20139:51 am
    by hoophabit


    Isaiah is right of course, the best thing to do would have been to be gracious.  It was also easy to understand why they didn’t.  I still recall the outrage at the clear working of the league to undermine the Piston’s game.  Jackson and the Bulls in the press constantly complaining about how the Pistons were bad for basketball.  Jordan with his league sanctioned travels and offensive fouls apparently were good for it.  It seems we have much the same thing in the NFL these days.  (Nothing wrong with D.J. Williams clearly spearing Durham while he was on the ground curled around the ball and needing only to be touched down while fining McIntosh for a horse collar that clearly wasn’t.)  We can only hope the Pistons don’t win another title, as that will require the league to change the rule book as they have on two other occasions when the Pistons won a championship.

  • Oct 5, 201311:28 am
    by Kobina


    Between Isiah and me, I am glad one of us has grown to be more gracious.  

  • Oct 5, 201311:32 am
    by Kris


    Ok, so let me get this straight; The Celtics do the exact same thing to the Pistons in the 88 playoffs, and just walk off the court, but Larry Bird was still named to the 92 olympic roster? If I were Isiah, I wouldn’t apologize for a John Brown thing, Michael Jordan was way out of line.

    • Oct 5, 201312:39 pm
      by Max


      Pippen was the real piece of shit.  

  • Oct 5, 20131:03 pm
    by Giles


    I’m still glad they didn’t shake their hands, fuck they should have pulled down their shorts and pissed on the bench..fuck Jordan fuck pippen. I don’t even rock nikes because of Jordan, never bought a pair. Bitches

    • Oct 7, 20132:17 pm
      by Max


      Fuck yeah, Giles!   You have put such a vivid and funny picture in my mind.  

  • Oct 5, 20137:39 pm
    by Max


    I’m loving this site right now.   I never wear Nike either and hate the company, Pippen, Jordan, Hanes, McDonald’s, Wheaties, Gatorade, those hot dogs, the Bobcats and the Bulls to this day.  I did cave on 2k.

    Around here, there is a lot of bashing of Joe Dumars for letting Billups go for Iverson and maybe tearing things down to soon.  

    Fuck the Bulls for allowing Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Jackson to walk away without even trying to keep them together after winning three straight titles.   They spit on all that talent and said organizations win championships.   Then they drafted Brand who became ROY and traded him before his second season for draft picks Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler who they traded for shit.   Now they’ve got another great coach who they don’t treat right and got lucky again with the right high draft pick.   Fuck them.  I don’t know why anyone would root for them after how they let that dynasty go for nothing when they could have just kept going.  It was so obviously about pride.  They still have those assholes in management and people here complain about Joe.   

  • Oct 7, 20131:11 pm
    by Leon


    Tarsier you are a Pistons fan correct? LOL

    • Oct 7, 20132:15 pm
      by Max


      He hates that question but he deserves it for his posts on this subject.   Maybe he’s too young but I’d question any Pistons fan who was conscience during the most acrimonious rivalry I have ever witnessed in sports and wasn’t left with a lasting hatred of all things Bulls. 

      • Oct 7, 20133:20 pm
        by tarsier


        I am a Pistons fan. But I am an even bigger basketball fan. I don’t hold the way the Bad Boys played against them just like I don’t hold the ways Pierce, Durant, and Harden draw fouls against them. They are paid a lot of money to increase their teams’ odds of winning a game so they play the way that will increase the likelihood of winning.

        I do have a problem with the league for incentivizing the Bad Boys to play the way they did just like I have a problem with them making flopping and taking sound strategies.

        • Oct 7, 201310:43 pm
          by Max


          Here’s Pippen fouling Laimbeer and it’s as bad a play as anything the Pistons ever did.   I wanted to show you Pippen’s clothesline on John Starks but this was the best I could find.   I guess the NBA doesn’t even want you to see the play on Starks anymore.  


      • Oct 7, 20133:21 pm
        by tarsier


        And no, I don’t hate the Bulls. The teams that receive a special degree of animosity from me are the Spurs and Celtics.

        • Oct 7, 201310:48 pm
          by Max


          But I’m guessing you weren’t conscience of the Bulls Pistons rivalry when it was playing out, were you? 

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