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In the opening moments of Episode Six of The Last Dance—ESPN’s documentary series on the ’90s Chicago Bulls dynasty—Michael Jordan shoots a commercial. But he doesn’t seem too happy about it.
He’s repeating different versions of the same line, over and over again: “It’s funny—a lot of people say they want to be Michael Jordan for a day, or for a week,” he says. “But let them try to be Michael Jordan for a year and see if they like it.”
After four episodes of catching up the LeBron-era fandom on what MJ was all about, Episodes Five and Six began to unravel the effects fame and expectation had on the six-time Finals winner. Jordan starts to feel tired, maybe even ready to leave the game. Episode Six unpacks one of the biggest controversies that may have caused those feelings: The night he went to Atlantic City after losing Game 2 of the 1993 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan, of course, was known to enjoy wagering with friends, but when newspapers reported his postgame gambling trip, a media storm fired up.
“My father said, ‘Let’s get away from New York City. Let’s you and I go to Atlantic City.’ We got a limo,” Jordan said in the documentary. “We went and gambled for a couple hours, we came back. Everybody went totally ballistic. Hey, he was in a casino last night. It wasn’t late. We got home by 12:30, 1 o’clock.”
Questions about Jordan’s gambling haunted him—with some going to extremes, wondering if he bet on NBA games—throughout his career. You can trace it back to this night. Also, around the same time, Richard Esquinas, a former general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena, authored, Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction. The book alleged that Jordan ran up a $1.2 million debt as a result of his betting.
“Yeah, Richard Esquinas,” Jordan said. “We met from a third party, you know I’m actually playing golf with people all the time now. And if they wanna gamble, we gamble. The character of those individuals I find out later, what kind of people I was playing with, I learned that lesson. But the act of gambling? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Former NBA commissioner David Stern even comments on the situation in The Last Dance, saying that the league never found any of Jordan’s behavior so extreme that he had to act on it. Jordan, on his end, denies that he did anything that was worth all the fuss from the media.
“I never bet on games—I only bet on myself,” he said. “You know, that was golf. Do I like to play blackjack? Yeah, I like playing blackjack. There’s no laws with that. And the league did call me, and they asked questions about it, you know, and I told them exactly what was happening.”
Of course, Jordan and the Bulls won Game Three and swept the rest of the series, en route to a third championship ring for the dynasty. Something tells us the controversy didn’t get to him all that much.
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