‘The Last Dance’: Michael Jordan’s retirement influenced by father’s murder, not gambling

With tears streaming down his face, Michael Jordan sprawled out on the floor. The Chicago Bulls star had just won his fourth NBA championship. But that did not fully explain Jordan’s emotions. 

Jordan had just won his fourth title but first without his father watching. James Jordan was murdered on July 23, 1993, after two 18-year-old men shot him and robbed him after he took a nap in his car on the side of the road, authorities determined. That incident influenced Jordan's retirement before the 1993-94 season, a decision he said had nothing to do with his gambling. So when Jordan returned during the 1994-95 season, he struggled processing playing games without his father present.

The biggest challenge emerged once Jordan helped the Bulls win the 1996 championship over the Seattle SuperSonics. Incidentally, the decisive Game 6 took place on Father’s Day.

"This is for Daddy," Jordan said afterwards. "I'm very happy for him."

Jordan was also understandably quite sad. As shown in the seventh and eighth episodes of "The Last Dance" documentary on Sunday, Jordan and others close to him detailed how his father’s murder affected him in different ways.

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First, Jordan experienced grief. He described his father as "my rock" and said "we were very close." During his freshman year at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C., Jordan said he received three different suspensions for undisclosed reasons, prompting his father to warn him he could not play sports if he did not change his behavior. Jordan said, "I never got in trouble from that point on."

As Jordan starred for the University of North Carolina and the Chicago Bulls, his father attended most of his games. He would often look for a young child in the stands to take to see Jordan after games for encouragement and an autograph. Through the celebrations and the sorrows, Jordan said his father "always drove and challenged me like a friend." Jordan's father also defended him to the media amid scrutiny about his gambling.

Second, Jordan wrestled with what led to his father’s death.

James Jordan had driven to Wilmington, N. C., to attend a friend's funeral and then golf with friends. He then planned to fly from Charlotte to Chicago to attend one of his son's charity golf tournaments. Jordan’s mother, Deloris, did not hear from James during his golfing trip. George Koehler, one of Jordan’s assistants and close friends, arrived at the airport to pick up James and could not spot him anywhere. James remained missing for three weeks until his red Lexus was found in the woods around Fayetteville, N.C. The windows were smashed and the license plate was missing. Eventually, authorities found James’ body in a swamp in McColl, S.C., and charged two 18-year-olds with robbery and murder.

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