Through the years, various conspiracy theories have come up regarding Michael Jordan’s unexpected retirement in 1993. Most theories center around one question—why did the GOAT walk away from the game at the height of his career? Instead of six NBA titles, it could have been eight. Jordan’s former Bulls teammate and current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has finally said what really happened.
Michael Jordan and Bulls first three-peat
When the Chicago Bulls swept the Detroit Pistons in the 1990-91 Eastern Conference Finals, the stage was set. The Bulls had finally overcome their Eastern Conference nemesis, who had eliminated them from the playoffs in the same conference finals the previous two seasons. With the Pistons finally out of the way, the Bulls began what would become one of the greatest runs in NBA history.
Jordan and the Bulls capped off the 1990-91 season methodically dispatching of Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Chicago rode the momentum of winning the organization’s first title and carried it over into the next two seasons.
In the 1991-92 season, the Bulls survived a tough Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Knicks winning 4-3, before eliminating the Cleveland Cavaliers and toppling the Portland Trail Blazers in the Finals. Two seasons. Two NBA championships.
All the talk heading into the 1992-93 season was whether or not the Bulls could win three titles in a row, a three-peat. When the 1993 NBA Finals ended, the Bulls had answered all questions. For the third time in as many seasons, they were NBA champs.
Jordan walks away from the game
A matter of weeks before the start of the 1993-94 season Michael Jordan stunned the Bulls organization, the NBA, and the entire sports world. He was quitting basketball.
That single decision prompted countless questions that, in the end, all asked the same thing—why?
Jordan explained in a press conference he had lost the desire to play the game any longer. After completing three extended title-winning seasons, plus playing with the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team,” he was burned out. His father’s murder, he said, also contributed to his decision.
Toward the end of the press conference, after media members had peppered him with a variety of questions, Jordan raised eyebrows when one reporter asked if he would miss the sport. Unprompted, Jordan offered up a curious response.
“I’m not making this a never issue. I’m saying right now I don’t have the mental drive to come out and push myself to play for a certain focus. Five years down the line, if that urge comes back, if the Bulls have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back.”
Wait. What? If David Stern lets him back in the league? And just like that, a conspiracy theory was born.
Was Jordan suspended for gambling?
Several months before he announced his retirement, the NBA had launched an investigation into Jordan’s gambling habits. The NBA investigation was a result of numerous revelations showing Jordan and a consistent pattern of gambling.
In 1992, Jordan publicly admitted to covering $57,000 in gambling losses. A year later, businessman-turned-author Richard Esquinas claimed in his book that he had won $1.25 million from Jordan on the golf course. Jordan later confirmed that.
Also, in 1993, right in the middle of the Bull’s playoff run to a third-consecutive title, Jordan was spotted gambling in Atlantic City the night before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks.
Clearly, Jordan liked to gamble. Whether or not it was a problem for the league, the NBA had every intention of finding out. On October 8, 1993, two days after Jordan’s retirement, NBA commissioner David Stern said the investigation into Jordan had ended because there was “absolutely no evidence Jordan violated league rules.”
Steve Kerr addresses the Michael Jordan conspiracy theory
Rumors have swirled for years about Jordan’s gambling and whether or not the league quietly asked him to walk away. In an interview with David Aldridge and Michael Lee of The Athletic, Jordan’s former teammate and current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr addressed the speculation.
Sometimes people say to me, ‘If Michael had stayed, you guys would’ve won eight in a row.’ That’s the most preposterous thing I have ever heard. People have no idea how emotionally draining it is for a team to keep winning. To me, the reason we won the second three was because he got away and recharged his batteries. He needed it, desperately. And that’s why he left. He was just burned out.
Kerr said he’s heard the theories through the years about David Stern telling Jordan he couldn’t play. He said it’s all nonsense.
“All of those conspiracy theories were dumb. Bottom line was, he was fried. Going through a lot with his father’s death. Just getting away for two years, recharged his batteries and got him ready for the next three.”
Kerr is one of the most well-liked and respected individuals in the NBA. His words have weight. For conspiracy theorists, however, it’s not going to matter who says what, there’s always going to be some level of doubt about what caused Michael Jordan to walk away from the game at his peak in 1993.
And the debate continues.