"I was definitely surprised," he says. "Because we've been in each other's presence before, and I've never gotten that type of reaction from him. We were even at dinner a couple times and he was always pleasant. Always good to my kids. Always good to my son. He even gave my son a pair of gym shoes.Only it wasn't. Clearly. Michael Jordan is an international icon -- albeit one famous for grudges -- whose words matter. And his words are clear. He does not like Isiah Thomas one bit."The competition that we all had on the floor, I truly just thought it was on the floor."Isiah, do you like Mike?"I do. I do. I don't have anything against him and I definitely admire him as a basketball player," Thomas says. " Like I said ... I haven't had an interaction with him that's been unkind."
It's not just Jordan. Magic Johnson had a long, long feud with him. Others, on and off the record, will lay out a point-by-point case for why they dislike the man so thoroughly.I ask Thomas why so many of these guys dislike him so strongly."They seem to like all the guys that they beat," he says, and laughs for a long time.Yet the truth is more complicated. From his botched run with the Knicks, all the way back to his playing days as the star of the Bad Boys of basketball, Thomas has garnered many, many enemies. Winston Churchill could tell you that's a sign you've stood for something, at some time in your life. But a lot of others will just say that's the price of being, well, an asshole.Since Thomas competed against some of the greatest players of all time, I ask him before he gets off the phone to rank, 1-5, the best players of all time based on his first-hand experience -- those he saw, those he competed against.
Yet the basketball era Thomas came up in wasn't like today's. You weren't friends. You didn't hang out in the offseason. There was no friendly Twitter banter, no AAU ties connecting you back to childhood, no culture of friendship away from the court.Then, it was a war. You had to go through Bird, Magic, Thomas and Jordan at their primes. The all-time greats at the height of their powers all competing for the same singular thing, that trophy. And a rough and tumble version of the game that saw Jordan, and others, get knocked around in a way unimaginable for today's players or fans."I don't think there's a guy playing during that period of time that got hit more than me," Thomas said.