Episode 7 of “The Last Dance” touched on accusations Michael Jordan was forced into retirement by the NBA in 1993 because of his gambling habits.
Newspaper columnists at the time wrote without evidence that the NBA opted for a covert ban of Jordan so it wouldn’t need to smear the name of its brightest star and an important part of its brand.
Jordan and then-commissioner David Stern, who died earlier this year, spoke on camera in Sunday’s showing of “The Last Dance” and denied the longtime gambling conspiracy theory.
“Ridiculous,” Stern said. “I could bang on the table, say … it’s a slanderous lie, but whatever, it’s just not true. Never was and never will be no matter how many times people ask the question.”
“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 Jordan announcing his 1st retirement.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 11, 2020
MORE: Explaining the MJ gambling conspiracy
Jordan felt burned out by his first championship three-peat with the Bulls and was dealing with emotions that stemmed from the murder of his father, James.
Like Stern, Jordan insisted his NBA exit that year was his own choice.
“I didn’t retire because the league kicked me out or they suspended me for a year and a half,” Jordan said. “That is not true. There is no truth to that. I needed a break, my father just passed and I retired.”
ESPN has produced “The Last Dance” in the manner Jordan wanted — something the organization openly admits — leaving questions about how a lack of editorial independence would color coverage of the controversial elements of Jordan’s career.
It was somewhat surprising, then, for ESPN to dwell on the gambling conspiracy allegations for several scenes.