Isiah Thomas says all teams played like 'Bad Boys' Pistons

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Isiah Thomas opens ESPN Films latest ’30 for 30′ doc Bad Boys with three words for anyone who overlooks his Pistons teams of the 1980s: “Film don’t lie.”

The Hall-of-Fame point guard led the Pistons to back-to-back titles in an era where the teams were stacked, the fouls were hard and the competition was at an all-time high.

“If you look at the top 50 players, a lot of them come out of that era and a lot of them were on the Lakers and the Celtics, and also Philadelphia,” Thomas said. “It was just a great era and teams were (that) good.”

It’s not a stretch to say that the ‘Bad Boys’ Pistons would struggle given today’s stricter regulation on defense, flagrant fouls and fines. Forwards Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn took their enforcer roles seriously. Dennis Rodman was a Hall-of-Famer in training. Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, Adrian Dantley, Mark Aguirre, John Salley – the Pistons had all kinds of talent.

But their brand of taking no prisoners on both ends of the floor rubbed lots of teams, and eventually the league, the wrong way.

A patented Laimbeer foul in the ’80s? A multiple game suspension in 2014.

“Maybe the pendulum has swung a little bit too far in terms of the nicety of the game,” Thomas admits.

Asked if there was a modern-day Isiah and Laimbeer duo in today’s game, Thomas pauses.

“There’s a lot of similarities at the guard spot – I’ve been compared to Chris Paul,” Thomas said. He asks for help to come up with a comparison for Laimbeer.

The Bad Boys documentary is thorough and as detailed as they come. It also serves as a reminder that, while the Pistons became etched in fans’ minds as NBA ‘villains,’ they weren’t the only team that fouled hard, got into fights and got under teams’ skin.

“I think the way our team just was portrayed as a rough team – but back then, all teams played that way,” Thomas said. “[In ‘Bad Boys’] James Worthy spoke about the Boston Celtics. He said the Boston Celtics were the original Bad Boys. Everything we learned, we learned from the Celtics. We emulated a lot of their style of play. They taught us well.”

In the final game of the ’91 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons starters left the floor and walked past Michael Jordan and the Bulls on their way into the locker room.

The problem was – there were still a few seconds left in the game.

For many, the moment is a stain on an already-stained Pistons reputation. Officials in NBA TV’s Dream Team doc suggested it was a big reason Thomas was left off the ’92 Olympic team.

Thomas said he and his Pistons teammates could have handled the “walkout” differently.

“We could have been bigger than the moment,” Thomas said. “I would have tried to be a little bit more forceful and smarter about what we were doing.”

Three years earlier, the Celtics did the same thing to the Pistons. Bird and other players left the bench in the final minute of the team’s Eastern Conference Finals-deciding loss to head to the locker room. Kevin McHale did too, sharing a brief handshake with Thomas on the floor before exiting.

Like Thomas said, “film don’t lie” – or maybe it does.

Thomas, who holds a masters degree in education from University of California, Berkeley,  said if his teammates would have stayed on the floor, they would have shook hands with Jordan and the Bulls.

The Bad Boys movie has an edge about it. It features all the NBA footage you could ask for, as well as honest and straightforward commentary from Pistons players, opponents, executives and reporters. As much as the Celtics and Lakers teams of the ’80s are held up as the “standard,” one would be remiss not to acknowledge how great the Pistons teams were.

And, according to Thomas, the Pistons should have 3 Larry O’Brien championship trophies.

“The foul against Laimbeer that sent Kareem to the line to give the Lakers [the title in ’88],” Thomas said of what he described as one of the most heartbreaking moments of his career. “We would have been looked at totally different as a team […] The era should have been: Lakers 4, Boston 3, Detroit 3.”

Regardless, the Pistons will never apologize for how they played — and they shouldn’t have to.

‘Bad Boys’ premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Follow theGrio.com’s Todd Johnson on @rantoddj