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In episode seven of ESPN's documentary series The Last Dance, the episode takes a breather from the game. Previous episodes had covered topics like the difference in salaries between Scottie Pippen (opens in new tab) and Jordan and Jordan's relationship with Dennis Rodman (opens in new tab), but episode seven took a sadder turn, focusing on the murder of the man who fathered the basketball superstar. James R. Jordan Sr.'s 1993 death was part of the reason Michael retired from basketball's 1993-4 season (Michael would return 18 months later).
On July 22, 1993, James Jordan visited Wilmington, N.C. to attend (opens in new tab) the funeral of an old coworker; he spent the rest of his trip visiting friends. Later that night, James got in his car and headed to Charlotte; he had been planning to fly from there to Chicago the next day. On the way to the airport, James pulled over on the side of the highway to rest. As he was sleeping, two men—Daniel Green and Larry Demery—noticed the parked car, shot James in the chest, and stole his red Lexus SC400. His body was discovered in a swamp in South Carolina three weeks later.
"We tried to backtrack what his actions were," Michael says in the episode. "He left a certain day. He was driving back. He just got tired, and instead of driving, he just pulled off and took a nap. Next thing you know, things happened the way they happened."
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While Demery and Green were given life sentences for their actions (Green is still fighting (opens in new tab) his case in court), ugly rumors speculated that Michael was the reason his father had been killed (the public knew of Jordan's issues with gambling (opens in new tab)). Michael issued a statement on it in the documentary (opens in new tab), saying he was "outraged" and that he "simply cannot comprehend how others can pour salt in my open wound." He continued: "It wasn't from the people I loved, the people that knew me, and that cared. It was from the people who got tired of me being on top."
It's clear to see how much Michael loved his father in this rare, gut-wrenching clip taken on Father's Day in 1996 after the Bulls won another championship.
"I know he's watching," he told an NBC reporter (opens in new tab) at the time. "To my wife and to my kids, to my mother and my brothers and sisters, this is for daddy."
watch 'the last dance' on espn+ (opens in new tab)
Bianca Rodriguez is the Fashion & Luxury Commerce Manager at Hearst Magazines, covering fashion, beauty, and more for Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire, Harper’s BAZAAR, and Town & Country. She likes lounging about with a good book and thinks a closet without platform sneakers is a travesty.
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