Today, the relationship clearly isn't anywhere near as close.
In Thomas' mind, a 17-year-old wound has been reopened in a new
book that Johnson and Larry Bird wrote with author Jackie
MacMullan. In the book, Johnson says, among other things, that he
played a role in keeping Thomas off the 1992 U.S. Olympic team.
"I'm just disappointed and hurt," Thomas told The Associated
Press on Thursday night before a promotional event for his men's
basketball team at FIU. "I never thought it was him who kept me
off the Olympic team. That hurt."
Thomas' disappointment with aspects of the book were first
reported by SI.com.
In the book, which chronicles the careers of Bird and Johnson,
the former Los Angeles Lakers great who retired from basketball in 1991 after being diagnosed with HIV said Thomas questioned his
sexuality and that several players did not want him on the original
"Dream Team" that easily won Olympic gold.
"Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics,"
Johnson said in the book, an advance copy of which was obtained by
The AP. "Nobody on that team wanted to play with him. ... I'm sad
for Isiah. He has alienated so many people in his life, and he
still doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why he wasn't chosen
for that Olympic team and that's really too bad. You should be
aware when you've ticked off more than half of the NBA."
Thomas said he declined a chance to be interviewed for the book.
According to its index, he appears on at least 26 pages.
"I wish he would have called me," Thomas said. "I always
believed that our friendship was good and close enough that we
wouldn't have to talk about this stuff in such a public venue."
When Thomas was not on that 1992 Olympic roster, there was
widespread speculation that Michael Jordan tried to keep the Detroit Pistons guard off the team. Jordan denied those claims, Thomas said he took the Bulls star at his word, and tried to get past the slight.
"I rooted for the USA because I wanted them to win," Thomas
said. "You move on. But that was a big hole in the resume. It
hurts me that he's taking credit for it."
Thomas also denied questioning Johnson's sexuality.
In the book, Johnson said the failed relationship with Thomas is
"the biggest personal disappointment of my life ... nothing else
is even close."
One passage has Johnson discussing how he called the guest
quarters of his Southern California home "the Isiah Room," noting
that he would leave house keys for Thomas at the hotel when the
Pistons came to Los Angeles.
"He was like my brother," Johnson said.
The comments by Johnson are the latest salvo in a strained
relationship, once made famous by the pre-finals kiss and a pair of
crowd-pleasing 1-on-1 battles in the final moments of the 1992 NBA
All-Star game. But even during those 1988 finals, Johnson and
Thomas let their competitive sides boil over, jostling with each
other after physical play later in the series.
In Johnson's words, he and Thomas are now "cordial. That's
Last fall, Johnson said he would not recommend Thomas for any
other NBA jobs, after Thomas' stints with both the Indiana Pacers
and New York Knicks were rocky at times - particularly so in New
York. Johnson said he "separated the personal from the
professional" when telling Knicks officials that they should
consider Thomas to coach their team.
The book, "When the Game Was Ours," is to be officially
released Nov. 4.