Over the course of an NBA career that spanned from 1981 to 1994, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas played against a plethora of the game's all-time greats. Duringwith Bill Reiter of CBS Sports, Thomas was asked to list the five best players he ever competed against, and his final rankings raised some eyebrows. Michael Jordan, who is widely considered to be the best basketball player of all time, didn't finish first or second on Thomas' list, but fourth.
Ahead of Jordan on Thomas' rankings are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, with Julius "Dr. J" Erving finishing fifth.
Given the history between Thomas and Jordan, Thomas' answer isn't especially surprising. The feud between Thomas' Pistons and Jordan's Bulls in the late 1980s and early '90s has been well-documented, and it was rehashed again in ESPN's new 10-part documentary series about Jordan and the Bulls, "The Last Dance". Episodes the playoff battles between the two teams, and how the Bulls needed to overcome the Pistons in order to develop into champions.
The series also touched on how the "Bad Boys" Pistons were purposely physical with Jordan and his teammates, and how theyafter the Bulls finally defeated Detroit in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. It is also widely believed that Jordan's distaste for Thomas kept the latter . In fact, Jordan's feelings of ill will toward the Pistons persist to this day.
"I hated them," Jordan said of the Pistons in the documentary. "And that hate carries even to this day."
While speaking with Reiter, Thomas provided some rationale behind his ranking, and why he placed Jordan as low as he did.
"When you put Jordan and his basketball team in the '80s, they weren't a very successful team," Thomas said. "They just weren't. When you talk about Jordan and his team dominating, they dominated the '90s. But when you put him with those Lakers teams and those Pistons teams and those Celtics teams, they all beat him. They just did ... What separated Jordan from all of us was he was the first one to three-peat. But he didn't three-peat against Magic, Larry and Dr. J."
In fairness to Thomas, players do tend to hold those that were in the league before them in higher regard than those that come after them, and in Thomas' case, the other four players on his list were in the league before he was drafted, while Jordan entered the NBA a couple of years later. Plus, the fact that Thomas was able to have some serious success against Jordan and Chicago may lead him to view those Bulls in a less mythical manner than those that were do. However, personal feelings also clearly play into Thomas' ranking, as you'd be hard-pressed to find many others who would rank Jordan so low. The two don't much like each other, and that's OK -- it's what made their rivalry so riveting then ... and still today.