Michael Jordan’s First Retirement: Legit or Conspiracy?

Michael Jordan retired from the game of basketball for the first time on October 6, 1993, citing his lack of passion to play the game. Jordan was in his prime at 29 years old, had won seven scoring titles, and the Chicago Bulls had just won their third consecutive NBA championship with MJ as the Finals MVP. Mike and the Bulls had a chance to match the 1962-66 Boston Celtics by winning a fourth consecutive title, but instead Jordan chose to walk away.

Michael Jeffery Jordan. The man many think of as the most driven athlete of all-time suddenly lost his love for the game he was starting to dominate like no other. Imagine Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement after the 2002 season or after winning the title last year. It wouldn’t make sense. Guys like that always want more and know their place in history. They don’t leave the game until they’re a shell of themselves. Like Michael eventually did almost 10 years after his first retirement (and five years after his second retirement) in 2003.

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Mike said he became burned-out on the game after leading the Dream Team to gold in the 1992 Olympics. That combined with his father’s death in the summer of 1993 could easily explain his desire to step away for awhile. At his press conference Jordan said he still would’ve have retired if his father had been alive and that media scrutiny didn’t play a role in his decision. This means Mike’s sole reason for leaving the NBA was a lack of desire.

The conspiracy theorists point to 1992-93 when making the case that Jordan was suspended from the NBA instead of willingly retiring. In 1992 a drug-dealer James “Slim” Bouler was found with a $57,000 check from Jordan. Michael initially said it was a business loan but under oath at Bouler’s drug and money-laundering trial he said it was payment for a weekend of gambling losses. That same year checks totaling $108,000 were found in the briefcase of murdered bail bondsman Eddie Dow. Again, Jordan attributed the payments to gambling losses. In 1993 San Diego businessman Richard Esquinas released a book, “Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction . . . My Cry For Help!”, in which he claimed to win $1.252 million over four years on the golf course with Jordan. Esquinas says MJ chipped the amount down to $900,000 and eventually agreed to a $300,000 payout. Michael would later say he only lost around $500,000 to Esquinas. It was also in 1993 when Jordan gambled at an Atlantic City casino late into the night before a playoff game against the Knicks. The NBA launched an investigation into Jordan’s gambling and the conspiracy theorists believe the findings led to his suspension. The NBA cleared Michael of any wrongdoing a few days after his retirement.

So was it a conspiracy? There’s no hard evidence that it was so I looked through the videos of Michael Jordan’s first retirement to see if anything stood out. A few things definitely did. Number one, MJ has become more comfortable with public speaking.

1. The first video starts with Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf explaining why Michael Jordan is retiring. He says he didn’t try to talk him out it and that Michael is doing the right thing.
2:00 MJ takes the mic for the first time.
2:12 He makes the distinction between not playing basketball and not playing basketball in the NBA.
He spends the rest of the time stating he doesn’t have the desire for the game anymore.

2. Mike starts this video by naming the things he’s going to miss about playing basketball, most notably “the things that men do in basketball.” Jordan means he’s going to miss the women and the nightlife.
1:44 Jordan says he hopes he doesn’t see the media in his retirement and that this is the first time he’s been around this much media without being involved in some sort of scandal.
3:12 Michael says he still plans to practice with the Bulls because “they haven’t banned me from practice like they have you guys [the media].”
4:22 He hasn’t ruled out a return to the game and that he’ll never say never.

3. Michael says he plans to relax in retirement and that he’ll play golf for fun but not professionally. The press conference suffers technical difficulties which lead Jordan, Reinsdorf, and the rest of the panel to believe the microphones are off. They’re not.
2:13 MJ smiles and shrugs after somebody jokes that he’s going to New York to play with Patrick Ewing. Then Reinsdorf says something to Michael that sounds like it starts with “Frank Thomas” and I swear I hear the word “contract” when the volume is cranked up. Jordan then says “I hope this works” before asking “are these things working?” in reference to the microphones. (The Big Hurt signed a new contract with the White Sox a couple of weeks after this press conference. The Sox were in the ALCS at the time and either reason could explain what Reinsdorf and Jordan are talking about.) The phrase “I hope this works” when MJ thought the microphones were off is sure to fuel the conspiracy side. The mic situation gets fixed and at five minutes into the video MJ talks about how he wants to be remembered.

4. Michael says it’s the perfect time for him to walk away.
1:07 He explains that he wanted to leave the game before his skills diminished. He’s obviously changed his position since then.
4:15 Johnny “Red” Kerr gets even with Jordan for all the talcum powder showers by clapping powder on MJ. From there Mike explains he didn’t call his retirement to upstage the White Sox in the playoffs.

5. Jordan continues with the no desire to play theme to start the video but by the end he’s taken another shot at the media, talked money, and joked about the gambling investigation.
:50 Michael speaks on the media again.
2:00 He says he’s not leaving because of money or because Larry Johnson got $84 million over 12 years.
4:41 Reinsdorf “I would say it’s a pretty good bet that nobody will wear number 23 on the Chicago Bulls again.” Jordan “That wasn’t a bet. He doesn’t bet.” The audience laughs.
5:55 Mike says he can’t think of playing for a team other than the Bulls.

6. The video starts with Michael saying people tried to talk him out of retiring but his mind was made up. From there he talks about his bromance with Charles Barkley.
1:07 Jordan talks about his friendship with Barkley and Ewing.
2:24 He says his decision to retire was made before his father’s death.
3:27 Mike says he has nothing left to prove in basketball.
4:52 Michael says he isn’t trying to be like Jim Brown by retiring in his prime.

7. Michael starts the last video by saying he has no interest in owning a team and then says “never say never” but it’s not something he desires and it looks like a lot of hard work. The final video contains the quote that the conspiracy theorists hang their argument on nine out of 10 times. “If David Stern let’s me..”
1:18 Jordan says their comes a time when you have to walk away from the games whether it’s by your choice or someone else’s.
2:46 Mike talks about the league surviving without him.
3:50 MJ says he doesn’t rule out coming back and then said this famous quote “Five years down the line, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back.”

Michael mentioned more than once that he now had time to spend with his family since he was retiring. It took a little under six months for him to grow tired of his family and sign a deal with a Chicago White Sox minor league team. Jordan returned to the NBA March 18, 1995. If you believe he was suspended it probably started in September 1993 making it an 18-month suspension. If you believe he retired then Michael Jordan is a lot more wishy-washy than he’s perceived to be now. He retired two more times after this press conference but said last year don’t be surprised if he plays at 50. It’s hard to believe that a guy that can’t let go was able to do so with ease in the prime of his career.