Foul play

Magic Johnson admits to retaliating against fellow player Isiah Thomas over bi rumors

With sports fans tuning in to the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, folks have brought to light a long-overlooked tidbit. In 2009, basketball titan Magic Johnson made a surprising admission: he purposely kept fellow baller Isiah Thomas off the American “Dream Team.” The reason? Johnson believed Thomas spread rumors about his sexuality.

The scandal dates back to 1992 when the best basketball players in the US united for the Olympic team. Dubbed the Dream Team, the lineup featured legends like Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing. At the time, the media heralded the team as the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled. They went on to win the Gold Medal.

Thomas, however, didn’t make the team. Speculation at the time pointed to Michael Jordan, who, according to rumor, refused to join the team if Thomas also landed a spot. Jordan and Thomas had something of a feud over Thomas’ very physical tactics during games.

Related: Magic Johnson “Should Be Ashamed” For “Having Those AIDS,” Says Clippers Owner Donald Sterling

Isiah Thomas has continued to fuel the Jordan feud rumors in recent interviews promoting the ESPN docuseries The Last Dance about Michael Jordan’s legacy with the Chicago Bulls.

“Why I’m personally hurt is another reason why I’m here,” Thomas told ESPN this week. “Because being left off the Dream Team, that personally hurt me. If I’m not apart of the Dream Team because a lapse in emotion in terms of not shaking someone’s hand … if that’s the reason why I didn’t make the Dream Team, then I am more disappointed today than I was back then when I wasn’t selected.”

Apparently Thomas never read Johnson’s memoir, When the Game Was Ours. In that 2009 book, Magic Johnson admitted that he blocked Thomas from joining the team. Johnson, who came out as HIV+ in 1991, believed that Thomas had spread rumors about Johnson having gay trysts. ESPN reports that the rumors about Johnson’s sexuality had soured other players in the league, ultimately sealing Thomas’ fate.

ESPN commentator Jemele Hill writes:

“In the book,” which Johnson co-authored with Larry Bird and frequent ESPN contributor Jackie MacMullan, Johnson admits he helped keep Thomas off the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team because he believed that, in the wake of Johnson’s announcement in 1991 that he had HIV, his once-dear friend spread a rumor he was gay or bisexual.

For most of the public, this is a startling admission, but Johnson’s sexuality has been gossiped about in NBA circles for years. That can be chalked up to ignorance about his disease. Thomas, now the men’s basketball coach at Florida International University, denies speculating about Johnson’s sexuality and told SI.com he feels “blindsided” by the allegations because this is the first time Johnson is publicly airing his side of the story.”

“Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics,” Johnson wrote in 2009. “Nobody on that team wanted to play with him.”

In the years since the Dream Team and his retirement, Johnson has raised awareness and charity funds to battle HIV all over the world, including smashing the stereotype that only gay or bisexual men carry the disease.