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.