NBA Heated Rivalries: Michael Jordan VS Isaiah Thomas

Mon, Mar 7, 2022
by CapperTek

A Quick History Of Basketball's Most Bitter Rivalry

The NBA provides a mix of high wages, global exposure, and high-pressure matches that often forges intense rivalries between its players as well as its teams. 

These rivalries have gone on to define some players' careers. Who can forget Shaq vs Kobe or Kevin Garnett vs Tim Duncan? 

Today, we are going to talk about one of the most iconic, controversial, and watchable rivalries the NBA has ever seen. Michael Jordan vs Isaiah Thomas. A rivalry that started on the court but started to seep into their real lives too. 

Who Is Isaiah Thomas? 

Thomas was a professional basketball player who has since become a commentator on the sport and also spend some time as a coach of different NCAAB and NBA teams. 

Thomas started his career playing college basketball for the Indiana Hoosiers. He captained the team to an NCAA Tournament (March Madness) victory in 1981. 

He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1981, he was the second overall pick that year. He played his entire career with this team. 

He was called up to the All-Stars team for 12 consecutive years (1982-1993). He won the NBA twice (1989, 1990) with the Pistons when they did the double. The team was known as "bad boys" during this era. 

Thomas was also named in the NBA 50th Anniversary Team and the NBA 75th Anniversary Team. 

Thomas retired in 1994. He took 6 years away from the sport to work as a commentator. However, in 2000 he returned to the world of basketball as a coach. 

Between 2000-03, he coached the Pacers; 2006-08, the New York Knicks; and 2009-12, he coached the Florida International University Panthers. He has not coached any other team since 2012. 

Who Is Michael Jordan? 

Michael "air" Jordan, also known as MJ, is possibly one of the most famous basketball players of all time. He is also considered to be one of the greatest basketball players to ever walk the court - along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

Michael Jordan played for Team USA in four tournaments and won gold in all of them. Had the Olympics not had the rules that banned professional sportsmen (which they have now removed) then he would have won a record amount of medals for his country. 

Jordan played basketball for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1982, he led his team to an NCAA Tournament final and made the winning shot. You can find this year's March Madness odds here. 

Jordan was the third overall pick in the 1984 Draft - he was picked by the Chicago Bulls. He played for the Bulls between 1984–1993, and 1995–1998. He later went on to play for the Washington Wizards. 

Jordan was a 6-time NBA champion (1991–1993, 1996–1998) and was named NBA Finals MVP in all 6 of those matches. He was also a 5-time NBA Most Valuable Player (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998). 

He was called up to the All-Stars every year he played (1985–1993, 1996–1998, 2002, 2003) - he was named All-Stars MVP 3 times (1988, 1996, 1998). He was also named Rookie of the Year in 1985. 

Jordan was a 10-time  NBA scoring champion (1987–1993, 1996–1998) too. 

Many younger people will know Jordan from his performance in the smash hit film Space Jam. 

He made such a big impact on the NBA that even teams that he didn't play for retired his number when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Only Wayne Gretzky (NHL) has experienced something similar - when the NHL made every team retire his number. 

The Rivalry 

Jordan and Thomas had played against each other a few times before their rivalry kicked off. 

The start of the rivalry came when the Bulls (MJ) played the Pistons (Thomas) in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals. The Pistons destroyed the Bulls 4-1.  They met again in the 1989 play-offs, where the Pistons came out victorious again. Both years they went on to win the NBA finals. 

However, things changed in 1990 when the Bulls finally got the better of the Pistons.

After that, the two could barely share a court without a fight breaking out. Thomas has even kicked off the Olympic team in 1992 because he refused to play with Jordan (who was the captain of the team at the time). 

When they went head-to-head, Thomas often came out on top. However, Jordan had a much more successful career. It seems that the pair still have not squashed their beef as they can still be seen occasionally tweeting nasty stats about the other… 


We're not sure there will ever be a rivalry as impactful as Michael Jordan vs Isaiah Thomas in the NBA again. But that may be for the best. As entertaining as rivalries are, it is no good for anyone when they turn nasty. 

The best player rivalries are the ones where they push each other to get better.