Isiah Thomas' Net Worth, Stats and Salary History Compared to Michael Jordan

Having painted Jerry Krause as the chief villain in the first two episodes, The Last Dance introduced a new set of antagonists on Sunday night in the shape of Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons.

The third and fourth instalment of ESPN's 10-part documentary chronicling Michael Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls touched on the team that delayed the Bulls' dynasty by at least three years, stopping them in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals before defeating them in the Eastern Conference finals in the two following seasons.

The teams developed a no-holds-barred rivalry which defined the NBA at the turn of the 1990s and Jordan candidly admitted he still harbours animosity towards his former rivals.

"Oh, I hated them," Jordan said in Episode 3 of the ESPN documentary. "And that hate carries even to this day."

If the Pistons' rugged, win-at-all-costs attitude earned them the "Bad Boys" monicker, in Isiah Thomas Detroit boasted one of the greatest players of his generation. A first ballot Hall of Famer, Thomas still ranks ninth in NBA history in assists and 17th in steals and made the All-Star Game in the first 12 of his 13 seasons in the league.

Crucially, Thomas was as happy to put his body on the line as some of his teammates and bought into coach Chuck Daly's philosophy as much as anyone else.

Thomas arrived in Detroit a year before Daly, selected with the second overall pick of the 1981 NBA draft after spending just two seasons at collegiate level with Indiana which had yielded a national championship title and a Final Four's Outstanding Player crown.

The Pistons missed the playoffs in Thomas' first two campaigns in Detroit before returning to the postseason in 1984, when they lost to the New York Knicks in five games, despite a monumental effort from Thomas in Game 5.

The point guard scored 16 points in 94 seconds to force the game into overtime, but then fouled out and was helpless to stop the Knicks advancing to the next round.

The Pistons lost to the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals and the first round in 1985 and 1986 respectively, before falling against the Celtics in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals a year later.

Isiah Thomas, NBA
Former Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas talks to the crowd during a celebration of the 1989 and 1990 World Championship Detroit Pistons at halftime during a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on March 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Gregory Shamus/Getty

In 1988, Thomas helped the Pistons to their first NBA Finals in 32 years and entered the league's folklore in Game 6 of the series against the Los Angeles Lakers, playing through severe pain after spraining his ankle. Despite hobbling and being barely able to run, Thomas scored 25 points in the third quarter—then an NBA Finals record—as the Pistons looked to clinch the title on the road. The Lakers, however, prevailed by a point and went on to take Game 7 two days later, with Thomas severely limited by injury.

The Pistons and Thomas—who by then was a two-time NBA All-Star MVP, a three-time All-NBA First-Team selection—exacted revenge a year later, thrashing the Lakers 4-0 in the NBA Finals after beating the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.

By sweeping the Lakers, the Pistons effectively ended the Showtime era in Los Angeles—the Lakers appeared in the 1991 NBA Finals but they wouldn't win another title until 2000—but Thomas acknowledged the Jordan-inspired Bulls were Detroit's biggest hurdle.

A year later, the Bulls and the Pistons met again in the Eastern Conference Finals with Detroit prevailing in seven games, before defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in six games to defend their titles as Thomas was named NBA Finals MVP after averaging 27.7 points, 7.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Despite being arguably the best player on a two-time championship winning team, Thomas' earnings remained modest. The second overall pick of the 1981 NBA Draft made a combined $3.9 million during the three seasons the Pistons reached the NBA Finals, before his annual salary rose to $ 2.7 million and $2.9 million in the following two seasons.

By comparison, Jordan earned a combined $9.7 million during the Bulls' first three title-winning seasons between 1991 and 1993 and his salary was almost twice as much as Thomas' during the Pistons' first title-winning run in 1989—Jordan made $2 million a year, while Thomas earned $1.1 million.

According to Basketball Reference, Jordan's combined salary earnings during his NBA career totalled $93.3 million, compared to Thomas' $16.7 million.

Jordan became a commercial icon during his NBA career when Nike launched the Jordan brand and Forbes estimates his value at $2.1 billion, making him the fourth richest African American.

Thomas's value, meanwhile, is estimated to be approximately $20 million.

On the court, the Bulls eventually dethroned the Pistons in 1991, sweeping them in the Eastern Conference Finals. A year later, Detroit fell in five games to the New York Knicks—the same opponent that had stopped them in Thomas' first playoff appearance eight years earlier.

Thomas and the Pistons had come full circle and the former retired at the end of the 1994 season after tearing his Achilles, before moving into coaching at the turn of the millennium.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

About the writer

Dan Cancian is currently a reporter for Newsweek based in London, England. Prior to joining Newsweek in January 2018, he was a news and business reporter at International Business Times UK. Dan has also written for The Guardian and The Observer. 

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