A big storyline in the fifth episode of the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance,” which aired Sunday night, was how Detroit Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas was left off the 1992 “Dream Team,” the group of mostly NBA players that led the United States to the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
Although no direct mention of the Utah Jazz was made on the subject Sunday, their two players who did make the team — John Stockton and Karl Malone — did end up being key figures in the saga of Thomas not being on the team.
The most obvious link was Stockton, who was the only true point guard on the roster beside Magic Johnson. It’s not as if Stockton was a slouch, as there’s healthy debate today concerning whether he or Thomas had a better NBA career since they had different strengths. Additionally, Stockton had just made the All-NBA team when the 1992 squad was announced, while Thomas hadn’t since 1987.
Nevertheless, the topic was the catalyst for some unforgettable moments when the Jazz and Pistons played each other in the 1991-92 season, after the “Dream Team” was announced. On Nov. 16, 1991, Thomas scored 44 points in a 123-115 Detroit win.
According to a recap of the contest by the Deseret News’ Brad Rock, it was the most points Thomas had scored in a game in eight seasons.
Just less than a month later on Dec. 15 in Salt Lake City, Malone delivered a vicious elbow to Thomas’ face as Thomas drove to the basket. The Deseret News’ Mike Sorensen reported that night that Thomas received 40 stitches at LDS Hospital but returned to the then-Delta Center to play the final six minutes of a game Utah won in close fashion, 102-100.
More drama was added to the situation thanks in a way to Michael Jordan. As reported by The New York Times’ Harvey Araton, in May 1992, Stockton fractured his right fibula when he was kneed by Jordan during an Olympic qualifying game against Canada.
No replacement for Stockton was named and he wound up missing the first few games of the Olympics, but he contributed in the final few as the United States won the tournament. According to Basketball Reference, Stockton appeared in four of the eight contests.
Malone appeared in all eight, according to Basketball Reference.