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‘The Last Dance’ shows Michael Jordan in a way never seen before

One of the documentaries which is high on everybody’s ‘must-watch’ list is the ESPN film on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team – ‘The Last Dance’. It is being globally distributed on Netflix, and showcases the rise of what is considered one of the best teams in NBA history. Jordan is of course front and center of the documentary, as he was the superstar of that team, and while the show looks at his achievements on the court, it also brings to light certain off-court habits of his as well, one of which was his propensity for gambling.

Michael Jordan was quite fond of gambling, as the sixth episode of the show demonstrates. He had quite a long history with it as well, as far back as the early ‘90s, and there were rumours that his first early retirement in 1993 came about under pressure from the NBA, which was nervous that investigations into his gambling debts were showing the league in a bad light. And boy, did he have debts back then. Jordan had famously spent a two-day break between playoff matches in Atlantic City, playing online slots and other games at the casinos, and walking into the team’s hotel back in Philadelphia at 6:30 am the following morning, just in time to run into the Bulls coach Phil Jackson. This, however, was mild compared to what was to come. IRS officials discovered a cheque for $57,000 from Jordan, when they were investigating James Boulder, a convicted cocaine dealer, on drugs and money-laundering charges. While the two first claimed that the cheque was a loan from Jordan to Boulder for a golf range Boulder was building, Jordan later testified in court that the money was to cover gambling debts he owed after a weekend in South Carolina. Even worse was to come, when a briefcase with three cheques from Jordan, totaling up to $108,000 dollars, was found in the investigation into the death of a bail bondsman, Eddie Dow, in South Carolina. Once again, it was proved that these were to cover Jordan’s gambling losses.

These are just a few of the instances which are highlighted in the show, while there are many other examples to show Jordan’s gambling ‘issues’. He used to bet on his golf games quite a lot, with Charles Barkley having spoken about times when he and some others would be playing for a few hundred dollars per hole, and Jordan would have a game on with someone for over $100,000 dollars a hole. In 1993, Richard Esquinas, a recovering gambler, released a book, in which he stated that Jordan owed him $1.25 million for gambling losses on their golf games in San Diego. After Esquinas had difficulty getting the money from Jordan, he allegedly reduced the amount to $300,000, which Jordan then agreed to pay. Jordan has stated that Esquinas exaggerated some of these points in his book to generate more sales, but never denied any of those accusations.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest the NBA has ever seen, and he was certainly one of the most competitive people on the tour. The man himself has said that he never had a problem with gambling, since he could stop himself when needed, and also that it should not have been an issue for other people since it was a personal pastime of his, and he never bet on basketball games. His bets were on himself during his golf games, and he said that he enjoyed playing blackjack, but all of this was a result of his intense competitiveness and thus a need for some sort of competition at all times. Whatever be the case, it cannot be denied that Michael Jordan was a prolific gambler; a characterization not many people would have expected from ‘His Airness’.