They came out at the same time. I was a spoiled lil dude, and I was about 12 when these came out. I used to scour pretty much every retail outlet for G.I.Joes and Transformers when they came out (I literally called every weekend to find whatever I was looking for at the time), and I saw the first episode of the cartoon when it debuted. That night my mom and I went to K-Mart and I saw Lion-O and Panthro for the first time and had to have them.
Unfortunately, despite being on the back of the packaging for all the other figures, the Tigra and Cheetara figures (with Wilykit and Wilykat unposeable PVCs) didn't actually hit stores for several, several months after that. I finally managed to get those at a Service Merchandise about 4 months after completing the rest of the set.
But yeah- unlike Masters of the Universe, where the toys hit several months before the cartoon, the Thundercats cartoon and figures were hand-in-hand there. Whoever told you that got something mixed up; they might have even been talking about Masters of the Universe or something.
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