‘The Last Dance’: Michael Jordan Gets Emotional Talking About Dad’s Murder — ‘He Was My Rock’
Michael Jordan was brought to tears while reflecting on the close relationship he shared with his father, the late James R. Jordan Sr. He addressed his father's murder and the speculation that it wasn't a random act of violence.
James R. Jordan Sr. was the focus of the episodes 7 and 8 of The Last Dance. Michael Jordan‘s father was murdered at the age of 56 on July 23, 1993. “When she got worried, we all got worried,” Michael said about his mother Deloris Jordan’s reaction when James went missing. “He was golfing,” she said.
James was driving from Wilmington to Charlotte in North Carolina, when he pulled over on the side of the highway to nap in his car. While he slept, James was shot in the chest and killed during a botched robbery, according to the Chicago Tribune. His body was dumped in a swamp in McColl, South Carolina. On August 13, 1993, his body was found in a creek between the border of North and South Carolina.
At the beginning of episode 7, Jordan became emotional during an interview with director Jason Hehir about the type of relationship he had with his father. “He’s a voice of reason that always drove and challenged me. That’s the type of father I had,” Michael said. “Like a friend?” Hehir asked. “Yeah, like a friend,” Michael assured as he fought back tears.
Michael and James were very close. He attended every Chicago Bulls game he could and was by Michael’s side when he won his first championship with the Bulls in 1991. Everyone from his friends, to his colleagues and loved ones could attest to the strong bond the duo had — especially when it came to the advice James would give to Michael, who took every word to heart.
“He was my rock. We were very close. He constantly gave me advice,” Michael said, recalling, “I remember in 9th grade, I was suspended three times in one year. He pulled me aside that summer and said, ‘You’re not headed in the right direction.’ — That’s all I needed to hear. It was like tunnel vision. I never got in trouble from that point on.”
Michael’s close friend, Ahmad Rashad added, “He had a very strong influence on Michael’s life. He was a wonderful, positive man.”
August 15, 1993: James’ funeral.
“I can remember flying into North Carolina,” Rashad recalled. “Michael couldn’t tie his tie and I had to tie the tie for him. That moment was so hard.”
“We were all together and it was devastating, but it was about support,” Michael said, recalling, “My mother was so strong and the first thing she said was, ‘You gotta be thankful,’ and I started to look at the positives,” he explained about how his mentality shifted after his father’s death. “If you have to take a negative, turn it into a positive. So I started to look to the other side of it, and that helped me get through it.”
At his father’s funeral, Michael spoke about the kind of father James was, and how he was also a friend, Deloris said, adding that Michael said he shared things with James that he wouldn’t with anyone else.
Not long after the senseless murder, speculation rose that James’ death was connected to Michael’s gambling, which led to other theories blaming Michael for his father’s death.
“It did hurt, but you had people throwing darts who wanted to hurt me anyway,” Michael said, explaining, “It wasn’t the people that loved me, it was the people who were tired of me being on top.”
August 21, 1993: MJ addresses his basketball future after his father’s death.
“I haven’t even thought about basketball… so right now everything is tentative from this point on,” he said. But, Michael was done.
“At that time we were coming off three championships. I fulfilled my responsibility to the city, the Bulls, my teammates,” he recalled. “I told [coach] Phil [Jackson], I said, ‘I’m done. I have no more challenges, no more motivation.’ I was just done.”
Ironically, news of his retirement broke on October 5, 1993, when he was at Game 1 of the American League Championship Series between the Blue Jays and White Sox. Michael threw the ceremonial first pitch before he retreated to the owner’s box.
The next day, Michael announced his (first) retirement from the NBA during a press conference — which a reporter said looked like “the last supper.” A smiling MJ sat at a table with NBA commissioner, David Stern, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, GM Jerry Krause, and coach Phil Jackson as they announced the news of his retirement. Michael said he was “at peace” with his decision to retire. “100 percent. I felt ready,” he admitted.
But, nobody could rationalize WHY he would walk away from the game. That’s when rumors started to emerge that MJ’s retirement was a secret 18-month suspension handed down by David Stern. — A myth that went on for years.
“The urban legend… it was ridiculous,” Stern said. “There was no basis and fact… it’s just not true. Never was and never will be no matter how many times people ask the question.”
Michael denied the rumor as well, and explained that he needed a break after his father’s murder. “That is not true. There’s no truth to that.. I needed a break, my father just passed and I’m retired,” he said.
Michael recalled his last conversation with his father. “We were debating about me playing baseball. He said, ‘Do it, do it,’ because that’s what he got me started on.”
February, 1994: The Chicago White Sox extend an invitation to Michael to join their major league camp in Sarasota.
After a mediocre career with the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate team of the White Sox, MJ returned to the NBA on March 18, 1995. He announced his return in a two-word press release: “I’m back.”
1996 NBA Finals: Bulls Vs. Seattle Supersonics:
“Mom I know he’s there. He watches, he sees,” Deloris recalled her son telling her about his late father during the grueling series.
Game 6, the Bulls win the series with a final score of 87-75. This marked Michael’s 4th championship and the 4th time he was named Finals MVP. It was June 16 — Father’s Day.