NBA

Who Was Michael Jordan’s Father Figure Gus Lett?

Michael Jordan and his close relationship with his father James has been highlighted in The Last Dance documentary. After James was tragically murdered in 1993, Jordan turned to security guard Gus Lett, who provided father-like guidance for the Chicago Bulls superstar for years. Who was Gus Lett and what happened to him?

The painful days after Michael Jordan’s father dies

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Just weeks after the Bulls won their third-straight championship in 1993, Michael Jordan’s father, James, was murdered in a botched robbery attempt by Daniel Green and Larry Demery. The two men dumped Jordan’s body off a bridge near the North Carolina state line then proceeded to ride around in his stolen Lexus for several days before they were apprehended.

After his father’s death, Jordan was understandably distraught. His best friend, who had been with him each step of his career from his early playing days in North Carolina to his meteoric rise to the top of the NBA, was suddenly taken away from him and no longer able to offer him guidance, console him, or support him. 

Mentally exhausted from three straight years of extended basketball seasons, coupled with the death of his father, Jordan shocked the sports world and announced his retirement. He surprised again several months later when he announced he was headed off to play minor-league baseball, something his dad had supported and encouraged him to do prior to his death.

Michael Jordan and Gus Lett’s special relationship

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When Jordan left Chicago and headed off to play baseball, he asked the three members of his security team to quit their jobs at Chicago Stadium and go with him to the minor leagues. John Michael Wozniak, Clarence Travis, and Gus Lett all agreed to join Jordan in Alabama. 

Of the three, Lett, a former Chicago narcotics officer, was the one who would give a look that discouraged anyone from approaching the star. “People around, they think they’re entitled to certain things. Gus would put them straight,” Jordan said in the documentary. “That was Gus. He was a protector. But he was more than that.”

Lett became more than a protector, especially after the death of James. He became a father figure for Jordan, who would drop everything and do anything at any time whenever Jordan needed him.

“At that time, Michael was hurt about his dad, and he still had a hard time with his death,” Lett’s widow Tisher described. “And he would call him crying at two o’clock in the morning and Gus would get up and go to him. Whatever he needed, he was there to take care of him.”

Gus Lett battles cancer

The roles somewhat reversed in Jordan’s final season with the Bulls as Lett battled cancer. Earlier in 1998 Lett had a malignant lesion surgically removed from his brain and another chest tumor removed via radiation. Jordan helped pay for his medical expenses.

Lett, who lost more than 20 pounds during treatment, was there behind the Bulls bench in Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he said Jordan has been very supportive of him during his time battling the disease. 

“Michael and I talk all the time. We talk about my health. He is encouraging me to keep fighting. And he keeps telling me that it’s going to be all right, which I know it will be. The doctors tell me I’m on the good side of (cancer prognosis). The tumors are gone. And I am going through chemotherapy now.”

Following the game, Jordan said he was happy to see his second father there behind the bench. 

“Gus is a very positive inspiration to me. He means a lot to me. When you look at Gus, the game really doesn’t mean as much. He is struggling through something that means a little bit more than playing a basketball game. He is certainly a positive influence for me. I enjoy him being around.”

In November 2000, Lett lost his battle with cancer.