The Detroit Pistons were the team in the wrong when they were beaten by the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals and didn’t shake hands.
A truly controversial take in the most recent weekend of the new episodes of the 10-part ESPN/ABC and Netflix documentary series chronicling the 1997-97 Chicago Bulls title-winning team called “The Last Dance” involved the end to the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Hall-of-Fame point guard Isiah Thomas and most of his Pistons teammates elected not to shake the Bulls players hands after they fell short in those conference finals.
Clearly this lack of sportsmanship on the big stage didn’t sit well with the Bulls, and more specifically all-time great shooting guard Michael Jordan. At one point of one of the two parts of The Last Dance last weekend saw Jordan’s reaction to “Zeke’s” take on this matter become an instant meme.
And this controversy between Jordan and Thomas (from his days playing for the Pistons) still apparently creates friction to this day. The impact of that stemmed beyond the Bulls-Pistons rivalry of the late 1980’s and 1990’s too. According to a report from ESPN on April 29, when the assemblance of the 1992 US Olympic “Dream Team” was happening, Jordan apparently never even mentioned Thomas’ name.
Jordan mentioned in parts of his interviews in the last two parts that were released of The Last Dance that he still doesn’t feel right about what the Pistons did at the end of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. And he has some right to feel that way. Thomas still didn’t admit in this docuseries that what he and most of that Pistons team did was wrong.
After the Pistons beat the Bulls in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals in heartbreaking fashion for Jordan and his squad, they still shook hands with the other side. But Thomas and the Pistons didn’t do they the same sportsmanlike courtesy when the script was flipped the following year.
This is a situation where Thomas should simply admit that he was wrong and that the Pistons made a somewhat embarrassing move back in the ’91 conference finals. Jordan and Thomas are two of the all-time great guards to play in the NBA (the former of which is still the GOAT). It’s hard to imagine that this friction isn’t something that could be put to bed three decades later.
The Bulls would go on to win their first NBA Championship of the 1990’s after beating the Pistons during the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. This would be the official point where Jordan and the Bulls took the torch from the Pistons as the top team in the East, and just the NBA in general.