Michael Jordan became the greatest player of all time through a never-before-seen combination of individual excellence and team success. Throughout his career, MJ averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.3 assists per game. His six championship titles with the Chicago Bulls are equally impressive.
Jordan’s achievements remain unimpeachable. Yet, for players who earn that level of fame, rumors aren’t far behind. One of the most persistent theories about Jordan has to do with his year-and-a-half retirement in between his Bulls three-peats. Let’s look at his hiatus and the conspiracy theory it sparked.
Michael Jordan’s partial retirement
Jordan announced his retirement from basketball in October 1993. At the time, the 30-year-old was in his prime. Considering he’d just led the Bulls to their third straight championship, Jordan’s announcement came as even more of a surprise. During Chicago’s victory over the Phoenix Suns, Jordan put up the highest finals scoring average ever, with 41 points per game.
MJ explained his decision by saying he had simply lost his desire to play the game. He also cited the recent death of his father as a motivator in his choice to exit the NBA. Yet, in his 1998 autobiography, Jordan admitted he had flirted with thoughts of retirement since his 1992 season.
Even more shocking than his retirement: Jordan’s foray in the world of baseball. He spent a year playing for the Chicago White Sox Minor League affiliate, the Birmingham Barons. Then, in March 1995, Jordan announced that he would return to the NBA with his brief and now-famous press statement: “I’m back.”
The conspiracy theory behind Jordan’s retirement
Now that you understand the reasons Jordan cited for his hiatus, let’s discuss the theory about what motivated his retirement. One persistent rumor dating all the way back to the time: Jordan had not willingly left the NBA. Instead, the theory considers that he was suspended as a result of his gambling habits.
Jordan’s gambling problem was well-documented by the time he first retired. In 1992, reports the Washington Post, he’d admitted to covering a $57,000 gambling debt. In 1993, businessman Richard Esquinas revealed that he’d won $1.25 million in golf bets from Jordan. The rumors about the NBA star’s gambling issues were serious enough that the league launched an investigation following the Bulls’ third championship run.
The NBA dropped the investigation just days after Jordan announced his retirement. The league officially stated that he had done nothing wrong. Yet many people continue to view Jordan’s retirement with suspicion. They assume he was either forced to retire or chose to retire as part of a deal to keep his gambling issues out of the public eye.
The truth about Michael Jordan’s conspiracy theory
To this day, no hard evidence has surfaced that Jordan was forced out of the league. Over the years, former NBA commissioner David Stern repeatedly denied that Jordan had been secretly suspended. While MJ himself has admitted to his gambling, he’s remained adamant that his first retirement had nothing to do with that issue.
Many sports analysts find it too difficult to believe a player as competitive as Jordan would really walk away from the game at the height of his abilities. Yet, until hard evidence arises, the conspiracy theory will remain just that.
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