Was Michael Jordan Forced into Retirement by the NBA over Problem Gambling?

Why would Michael Jordan, the best basketball player ever, retire at the top of his game?

At this point in his career, Jordan had claimed seven NBA scoring titles in a row, led his team to three consecutive NBA Finals championships, and earned the NBA Finals MVP award for all three of those championships. What could make him walk away?

On October 6, 1993, Jordan held a press conference at which he announced he was retiring from basketball to try his hand at professional baseball. At the time, Jordan claimed he was fulfilling a lifelong dream shared by him and his father, James.

James Jordan met an untimely end on July 23, 1993, when he pulled his car to the side of US Highway 74 to rest. While asleep in his vehicle, two assailants shot James to death and stole his car. Nearly three weeks went by before James’ body was found in a South Carolina swamp, decomposed beyond visual recognition. He was finally identified by dental records as James Jordan on August 13, 1993.

No one can imagine what Jordan was going through at the time, but many sports writers and analysts felt his retirement and pursuit of an MLB career was a touching tribute to his father and that Jordan had nothing left to prove in the NBA.

While this was the official story behind Jordan’s retirement, other events and issues could explain why the number-one player in the NBA would retire at 30. Namely, Jordan’s gambling problems and connections to known criminals.

As reported by CBS Sports, Jordan was called to testify at the trial of James Bouler, a convicted cocaine dealer. When asked why Bouler possessed a personal check from Jordan for $57,000, the NBA star revealed that the check was payment for a gambling debt.

Eddie Dow, another bad character known to carry a gun and a lot of cash, was found dead with three personal checks from Jordan totaling nearly $110,000.

Richard Esquinas, San Diego businessman, claims in his 1993 book, Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction … My Cry for Help, that Jordan lost more than two million dollars to Esquinas in 1991.

The final straw came during the 1993 NBA Finals, when Jordan was seen gambling in Atlantic City at 2:30 a.m. when he had a game the next day. As a wealthy celebrity gambler, Jordan received exclusive offers from many casinos and was an Atlantic City regular.

NBA Commissioner David Stern was forced to act, exploring if Jordan had violated any NBA rules, or if he had ever gambled on any NBA games.

Two subsequent investigations cleared Jordan of any wrongdoing, but his reputation suffered immensely. His problematic gambling combined with his known ties to the criminal underworld were too glaring to ignore any longer.

When asked if gambling was a problem in his life, Jordan replied: “Yeah, it depends on how you look at it. If you’re willing to jeopardize your livelihood and your family, then yeah.” Many people thought Jordan’s gambling was jeopardizing his livelihood and family and read this as an admission of a serious gambling problem.

But the question remains. Was Jordan forced into retirement by the NBA? According to David Stern, it’s one of those “conspiracy theories” that always surround celebrity personalities. Stern claims Jordan was not forced to retire and that he made the decision completely of his accord.

That this story still captures public attention shows that not everyone has bought the official narratives given by the NBA and Jordan himself.

Who knows, one day we might learn more.




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