Michael Jordan addresses golf gambling rumors in new documentary
Sunday night’s fifth and sixth episodes of The Last Dance were particularly golf-heavy. First was Jordan as a member of the 1992 “Dream Team,” which featured plenty of rounds in Barcelona. Then was Jordan, urging Scottie Pippen to skip the media to get to his 3:30 tee time. And there was Jordan, blowing off steam by teeing it up a week before the 1998 playoffs, complimenting Phil Jackson for understanding that his guys needed a break.
But when it comes to Jordan and golf, the greatest speculation has always surrounded his gambling habits. Jordan — and others — tackled the topic midway through the doc’s sixth episode.
Reporter David Aldridge began by resurfacing the story of Jordan skipping the Bulls’ 1991 trip to the White House after winning the title.
“He said, ‘Oh, time with family,'” Aldridge remembers. “No, he was out gambling with Slim Bouler.”
Bouler was a golf hustler who was eventually convicted on charges pertaining to money laundering, though he was let off on more serious drug conspiracy offenses. When Bouler was being investigated for cocaine trafficking, authorities found a check for $57,000 from Jordan at Bouler’s home. Jordan initially called the money a loan, but wound up testifying differently at his trial.
“It was what I lost gambling,” Jordan reportedly said in court. “It was never a loan. I said it was a loan strictly to avoid embarrassment and pain.”
Bouler was far from Jordan’s only controversial gambling partner. Richard Esquinas wrote a book called Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction…My Cry For Help! in which he detailed Jordan running up a $1.2 million gambling debt over 10 days in San Diego. Jordan would later say that the true number was closer to $300,000. He mentioned Esquinas during Sunday night’s episode, too.
“Richard Esquinas, I met him from a third party, I was 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.”
Jordan said that his interest in gambling never extended to the basketball court. “I never bet on games,” he said. “I only bet on myself, and that was golf. Do I like to play blackjack? Yeah, I like playing blackjack. There’s no laws with that. The league did call me and asked questions about it. And I told them exactly what was happening.”
Former NBA commissioner David Stern backed Jordan’s version of events. “Michael was betting on his golf game, larger numbers than you and I might bet if we we played golf together, but given Michael’s earnings and the like, it never reached epic crisis levels in my view,” Stern said. The NBA found no wrongdoing on Jordan’s part.
Aldridge agreed. “What I always used to say to people is that for Michael Jordan, $10,000 is like you betting $10. He’s got it. He’s good for it. You don’t have to worry about it.”
For a complete breakdown of Michael Jordan’s fascinating, complex love affair with the game of golf — gambling and otherwise — check out the Drop Zone podcast on the subject below.