Here’s how to prepare for one of the biggest games of the season, Michael Jordan-style.
Step one: travel from New York to gambling hub Atlantic City in New Jersey. Step two: stay out late enough that the New York Times claims you were there until 2.30am. Step three: underperform and lose the game.
Netflix and ESPN’s brilliant ‘The Last Dance’ laid bare the extent of Jordan’s famed gambling habits in episode six over the weekend. It was centred around the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Chicago Bulls lost game two to the Knicks.
The Last Dance documentary covered Michael Jordan’s gambling habits while he was a player
Jordan was alleged to have amassed huge debts while gambling on games of golf
Jordan found himself at the centre of a scandal. To this day, he insists it was over-egged, a form of relaxation that got him away from the harsh spotlight of the Big Apple.
As far as he was concerned: ‘We got a limo, we went and gambled for a couple hours, and we came back. Everybody went totally ballistic. It wasn’t late. We got home by 12.30, 1’.
That is what Jordan – who has a reported net worth of $2.1billion (£1.7bn) – said while filming the documentary, now an older and wiser head.
But back in 1993, his gambling habit became the centre of a storm that only dissipated when the Bulls won the Eastern Conference and then the NBA Championship, pulling off a famous three-peat in the process.
Jordan went on a trip to a casino in Atlantic City before playing the New York Knicks in 1993
There was scrutiny beyond that trip to Atlantic City, though.
It emerged that he skipped the Bulls’ trip to the White House after winning the 1991 NBA Finals so that he could go gamble with golf shop owner and convicted cocaine dealer James ‘Slim’ Bouler.
Bouler was eventually arrested on drug and money laundering charges. While investigating him, police found a $57,000 cheque from Jordan. It eventually emerged it was to cover a gambling debt.
Then Richard Esquinas published a book called ‘Michael and Me’. Esquinas was a self-described recovering gambling addict and addressed his and Jordan’s alleged problems in the text.
He also claimed Jordan owed him a staggering $1.2million in gambling debts from golf bets. Jordan denied that and Esquinas later said they settled with a payment of $300,000.
Richard Esquinas wrote a book in which he alleged Jordan owed him $1.2m in gambling debts
It was not just big-figure bets. Jordan would play cards with reporters Sam Smith and Lacy Banks while on the road. He also used to bet on mascot races but almost always won because Chicago arena staffers would tell him who would finish first beforehand, according to CBS.
The documentary also details his bets with team-mates. The Bulls had a notorious card school on their planes and coaches and huge sums of money would change hands – with Jordan usually involved.
While with Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games, he was part of a card game with the likes of Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Patrick Ewing – all stars with deep pockets. They would play deep into the night.
He supposedly lost $5m in a Las Vegas casino in a single night during his career and even used to bet team-mates on whose luggage would come out first at the arrivals lounge at the airport.
Jordan was part of a card game with his Team USA team-mates at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics
Former Chicago Bull Jay Williams, who joined the team after Jordan left, told a story about his habits in 2015.
He explained that he had been told by others on the team that Jordan – who was earning nine figures from his playing career and shoes at that stage – would even bet big money on rock, paper, scissors.
Williams said, according to 247Sports: ‘Think about gambling to the next degree. Rock, paper, scissors, you bet, $20,000 all day long. Why wouldn’t you? You get bored.
‘And don’t get yourself down in the dice game. Don’t be in the corner and let some dude keep fading you out and all of a sudden you’re down $100,000 and he’s like, “Yo, bet it back, rock, paper, scissors for $100,000.”‘
As controversy raged over the 1993 Atlantic City trip, Jordan sat down with reporter Ahmad Rashan to deny any gambling problems: ‘I enjoy it, it’s a hobby. If I had a problem I would have sold my house, I would be starving, I would be hawking this watch, my championship rings, my wife would have left me or she’d be starving, my kids… I do not have a problem, I enjoy gambling.’
Jordan insisted he did not have a gambling problem during an interview in the 1993 season
Meanwhile, the NBA launched an investigation into his habits amid public speculation he had bet on games.
Jordan insisted: ‘I never bet on games. I only bet on myself, and that was golf. Do I like playing blackjack? Yeah… The League called me and asked questions about it and I told them.’
He was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but there have been conspiracy theories for years that his retirement that year – following the murder of his father – was actually a secret suspension.
At his retirement press conference, he fuelled that fire. He was asked whether he’d consider returning and said yes, ‘if (then-NBA commissioner) David Stern lets me back in’.
Jordan’s former agent David Falk spoke at the end of last month about the rumours: ‘Stern comes on and basically says it’s complete hogwash that he suspended Michael for 18 months when he retired.
Jordan and those around him have always denied that he retired in 1993 due to a suspension
‘At the end of the day, Michael was almost Teflon. There’s very few things people criticised him for. The gambling thing was it. He loves to gamble. He’s an extremely competitive guy.
‘If he loses $150,000 playing golf, big freaking deal. If I told him tomorrow, “Hey, I’ve got an appearance for you for five minutes for $150,000,” he’d laugh at me. If it was $1,500,000, he wouldn’t do it.
‘So yes, he lost money in gambling and it sort of had a little bit of a black eye for five minutes.
‘He apologised and the thing went away. But any of these Oliver Stone conspiracy theories that somehow it pushed him out of basketball were ridiculous.’
Jordan was cleared by the NBA, and they further vetted and approved him when he bought the Charlotte Hornets. There has been no evidence in the last 27 years to substantiate a suspension.
Jordan’s Washington Wizards team-mate Jamal Crawford described one bet with the veteran
But what is definitely true is that Jordan gambled.
In the book Michael Jordan: The Life, it was reported that he wrote a letter to a high school date saying he was happy she’d paid off a bet he won against her.
And in 2019, a cheque for $5 from Jordan’s time at college went up for auction. It was written to another student at North Carolina and came after he won the cash in a game of pool.
While playing for the Washington Wizards towards the end of his career, rookie Jamal Crawford challenged Jordan to a three-point shootout for $1,000. Jordan won. Crawford then upped it to $5,000 before winning.
Jordan asked him, “What car did you drive here with?”. It was a new Mercedes.
Jordan during his successful spell with the Chicago Bulls, when he won six championships
The veteran allegedly put up his Ferrari for a bet, went five for five and drove away in Crawford’s new car.
That might speak to the truth of Jordan’s desire to put money on the line and he might have summed it up best while speaking on the documentary.
Now aged 57, he was asked whether he had a gambling problem. Speaking with confidence, he made it clear: ‘No, because I could stop gambling.
‘I have a competition problem, a competitive problem.’