BOSTON (CBS) — With the nation sorely lacking live sporting events during the coronavirus shutdown, the ratings and attention for the 10-part Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” has been huge. While Jordan has been the centerpiece of the documentary, several side stories have gained new legs after being mentioned.
Included in that list was the Larry Bird-era Celtics, who got caught in some competitive crossfire in the documentary.
Jordan expressed some ill will toward former Piston Isiah Thomas, after Detroit fled the court without shaking hands after the Bulls finally figured out a way to get past the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Thomas then said the Pistons were merely emulating the Celtics, who walked off the court in Detroit without shaking hands after losing in the 1988 playoffs.
While the Celtics did indeed slip off the floor in ’88, Ainge said it had nothing to do with bad sportsmanship and everything to do with getting off the court safely. With fans and photographers spilling onto the court at the Silverdome after play stopped with 3 seconds left, players on the Celtics bench took that as their opportunity to escape.
Ainge, speaking with Zach Lowe on The Lowe Post podcast, said that unlike the Pistons, the Celtics didn’t plan that departure ahead of time.
“I don’t think it’s a fair comparison, because there was no plan. We had never done that before to any team,” Ainge explained. “Yeah, we had a good rivalry with Detroit but I mean, Detroit had earned our respect. We were more than fortunate to beat Detroit in ’87, and then for them to win in ’88, they were justified. They were the better team. I don’t remember having any hatred toward them. We weren’t going to say, you know, wish them well. I think it simply had to do, it was such a long walk back to the tunnel in Detroit, and we left before the buzzer sounded just for our own safety. And the one guy that was still on the court was Kevin [McHale], and Kevin did stop and talk to Isiah.
“There wasn’t a coordinated effort in any way, shape or form, other than the safety of the players,” Ainge added. “Unlike Detroit, who game-planned to snub the Bulls as they walked by ’em for whatever reason. I don’t think it was even close to being the same.”
Previously, former Celtics scout Jon Jennings disputed Thomas’ claims.
Watching The Last Dance. Isiah was dead wrong about the Celtics walking off the court in 1988. Coaches had Larry, Kevin, Robert, and DJ leave due to security concerns. Thousands rushed the floor at the Silverdome after we lost. It had nothing to do with losing the series.
— Jon Jennings (@JonPJennings) April 27, 2020
Video of the end of that game seems to corroborate the Celtics’ claims.
Though decades have passed, it’s quite clear in the documentary that Jordan still holds on to his grudges rather tightly. Ainge, though, says he takes a different approach — even with those hated Bad Boy Pistons.
I mean listen he was tough to play against in that regard, but I get a kick out of Bill [Laimbeer],” Ainge said. “I would talk to Bill. I have run into Bill over the years and I have talked with him. So yeah, I don’t really hold any grudges against guys that we played against. I respected the Pistons then, and I respect them even more now.”