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Recording casts doubt on Jordan's Isiah feud stance

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-29 08:59
The career of Michael Jordan, pictured in action for the Chicago Bulls against Craig Elho of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1992, is back in the sports conversation these days thanks to The Last Dance documentary. In particular, the series has rekindled interest in his long-running feud with former NBA rival Isiah Thomas. [Photo/AP]

For nearly 30 years, NBA legend Michael Jordan has denied he orchestrated Isiah Thomas' exclusion from the US Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics-and he stuck to that story in the ESPN documentary The Last Dance, which aired worldwide over the last two months.

But last week on his "Dream Team Tapes" podcast, US sportswriter Jack McCallum released a 2011 audio interview with Jordan in which the NBA legend relates a pre-Olympics conversation he had with Dream Team GM Rod Thorn.

"Rod called me and I said, 'Rod, I won't play if Isiah Thomas is on the team,'" said Jordan."He assured me. He said, 'You know what? (Coach) Chuck (Daly) doesn't want Isiah. So Isiah is not going to be part of the team.'"

Jordan spent much of episode four of The Last Dance detailing his dislike for Thomas, a fellow Hall of Famer who spent his career with the Detroit Pistons. When the 1992 Dream Team was discussed, Jordan again denied he was involved in keeping Thomas off the team-allegedly because Thomas refused to shake hands with the Bulls after Detroit lost to Chicago in the 1991 NBA Eastern Conference finals.

"I know the criteria of selection for making the team," Thomas said on ESPN's Get Up."I fit all the criteria. And that's a big hole in my resume. That's the biggest hole in my resume."

The Dream Team marked the halfway point of Jordan's career. Two years later, he took a break from basketball to try his hand at pro baseball, signing with the Chicago White Sox.

The story goes that Jordan-overpowered by the weight of his fame and emotionally drained by the murder of his father-pursued baseball as a new challenge and a welcome distraction.

"He respected the game," current Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who managed Jordan with the Double A Birmingham Barons, told ESPN.

"I love the guy. And I don't love the guy just in the press. I love the guy. I respect him. I appreciate how he handled everything."

Francona went on to say he thought the then 31-year-old Jordan could have made it to the big leagues-not as a star, but at least as a reserve outfielder.

Sports Illustrated didn't agree, and famously begged Jordan to "bag it" in a cover story that would cost the iconic magazine future quotes when the player returned to the NBA a year later.

"SI completely missed the story," said David Falk, Jordan's agent. "Michael gave up everything he had earned as the king of basketball to play minor-league baseball and subject himself to criticism. He put everything on the line to compete, with nothing to gain. That is the essence of sports.

"To this day, SI has never apologized to Michael, and he'll never talk to them again."

Francona said that's all part of MJ's competitive spirit.

"If you told him no, he was going to find a way to make it a yes," he said. "That's one of the keys to his greatness."

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