Even now, it’s sort of hard to understand why Isaiah Thomas was so widely disliked by his NBA colleagues.
He was a brilliant talent. Just 6-1, Thomas was fearless and would drive - and score - on just about anyone in the league.
But he just rubbed people the wrong way. Part of that was certainly being part of the Bad Boys. When Detroit was rising, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and especially the loathsome Bill Laimbeer made the Pistons deeply unpopular. Part of that affected Thomas, who was not entirely part of the whole Bad Boys mentality (neither was backcourt mate Joe Dumars).
But no one, other than Magic Johnson, much liked him and even Johnson had a long-term falling out with Thomas.
Other than the legendary Dream Team snub, apparently fomented by Michael Jordan, who was “frozen out” of the All-Star game in his rookie season by Thomas and others, the nastiest, most brutal response to Thomas came from Karl Malone.
The powerful forward from the Utah Jazz saw Thomas driving the lane and just laid him out with an elbow to the face, something that took 40 stitches to repair.
He was fined $10,000 and got a one-game suspension, which seems ludicrous by today’s standards.
Years later, he told Thomas that he indeed meant to hit him, but not that hard, which Thomas seemed to appreciate.