Modern NBA players can’t go anywhere without a dozen cameras capturing their every move. While aspects of this have been true for decades, it rarely caused the scrutiny that it does today. To see this, look no further than Michael Jordan.
No stranger to scrutiny, Jordan infamously went to Atlantic City on the night before a Game 2 loss against the New York Knicks. A media-storm followed. Had that happened today, it may have been even worse.
Jordan’s love of gambling is not a secret in NBA circles. From stories of his golf bets to others about card games, Yahoo notes that Jordan’s same competitive drive that elevated him over the rest of the competitions also meant that the high-stakes world of gambling was an inevitable hurdle on his path to greatness.
While gambling on its own is not a big deal, Jordan’s timing during a 1993 playoff series tested the patience of fans and media alike. According to reports, fans saw Jordan gallivanting around the East Coast gambling haven in the hours leading up to the second game of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals. For a man who often held his teammates to impossible standards to party while the rest were getting sleep meant others noticed.
After the Atlantic City story went viral in newspapers, Jordan spoke out against the perception that he did something wrong.
Jordan defends himself
Leading by example has always been the sign of a true leader in pretty much any professional capacity. When Jordan chose to gamble with an 0-1 record in the series, many questioned where his head was at. However, according to Jordan, the trip to Atlantic City wasn’t about gambling but clearing his head before one of the biggest games of his career.
“I wanted to get away from the city of New York and relax, instead of sitting there and listening to the media hype up about the first game–my mistakes, Scottie Pippen didn’t play well, Michael Jordan didn’t play well. I’m just trying to get away from it, instead of staying in my room, which is four walls, already,” he said, according to the LA Times.
Jordan didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn for a primetime game to get ready for a playoff game. After all, stories of his exploits on game days were already popping up. Now, they are as much a part of his legacy as any game-winner, dunk, or Gatorade commercial.
“I chose to take a ride, in a limo, didn’t drive, rested, sitting there talking about all the different conversations that my father and my friends could talk about. Get up there, get to a private gambling area, come home at a respectable hour so I can get eight hours, get ready for the next game. And that’s the truth,” he said (per The LA Times).
While Jordan lost game 2, he bounced back and defeated the Knicks after all the negative press. As bad as that press was, however, it may have been worse today.
Would this fly today?
In 2021, everything from the constant access to cameras to social media means that players can get caught doing things before they even leave the building. Lou Williams made waves when he was spotted getting wings at an Atlanta strip club.
Before the current season, People reports that James Harden was spotted partying while his teammates were getting ready for the season. Williams. SB Nation noted that Williams’ story had more nuance, and the guard was later absolved. Harden, on the other hand, got his way out of Houston not long after.
Jordan was already a viral sensation due to the onslaught of media coverage. Long before any documentary, Hall of Fame speech, or Oprah interview made him a proverbial meme factory, he dominated a different type of viral landscape. Now, whether factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic or assuming it would during a typical season, Jordan’s fallout may have been worse.
Jordan always claimed that he wasn’t out that late despite reports that he was still there at 2:30 AM. Now, there would likely be photographic evidence of his gambling trip that either absolved him or proved him to be a liar.
At the end of the day, Jordan shut the criticisms up, but the fact that he made headlines like this long before Twitter, Instagram, and camera phones just how big he was and how much bigger he’d possibly be had he grown in the current NBA societal landscape.