Michael Jordan – The NBA’s Most Famous Gambler

The story of Michael Jordan is a great example of how even the greats can be vulnerable to addiction. Besides being an NBA Hall of Famer, Michael Jordan is also known for being a notorious high-stakes gambler that loves to bet on basically anything. 

Where It All Began

Jordan has been gambling since his high school days when he would wager small items such as soda, few dollars, or a packet of gum with classmates or teammates. The notorious betting on silly activities stems from his competitive nature. However, that competitive attitude is one of the things that made him a successful athlete in the ruthless environment of professional sports. 

young michael jordan

Not only would Jordan bet on anything, but he would also bet anyone. His rash betting would gradually morph into a gambling addiction. However, his extreme desire to win combined with an addictive personality seemed to be somewhat of a double-edged sword.

Gambling Stories

Most of MJ’s gambling stories don’t even take place in a traditional casino. Michael Jordan enjoyed winning itself more than the money it brought. 

The billionaire would reportedly get upset over small bets of just a few dollars that were not paid immediately. The 6-time NBA champion holds winning sacred, where the bet is a trophy and proof of a beating.

michael jordan roulette wheel

Moreover, the competitiveness of Michael Jordan was so severe that he would feel unsatisfied after dominating on the court. He would allegedly challenge his teammates after basketball matches for games of rock-paper-scissors or even water chugging contests of up to $100,000 at stake.

Michael Jordan’s Favorite Games

While gambling with random people for water chugging contests sure sounds fun, Michael’s favorite and most expensive games by far were cards and golf. He would often fulfill his competitive spirit on the casino floor playing blackjack, reportedly for $15,000-$45,000 per hand and losing sometimes more than $500,000 per night. 

But the biggest reported debt that Michael Jordan accumulated over the years happened on the golf course. Most of his golf gambling took place in private sessions, so it is unknown how much he has actually lost/made. However, frequent golfing partners revealed that the NBA star would bet as much as $100,000 per hole. 

jordan golf

In the book Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction… My Cry for Help by Richard Esquinas reveals that Michael Jordan owed him more than $1.25 million in golf bets. But he also stated that he settled the debt only on $300,000 because he feared Jordan wouldn’t pay him back otherwise.

Addiction Or Just Guilty Pleasure?

Although all signs point to a gambling problem, Jordan insists that he is not addicted to gambling. If there is any problem at all, according to him it is competition-related. 

When asked during an ABC interview about his view on the matter, Jordan said the following:

“No, I enjoy it. It’s a hobby. If I had a problem I’d be starving, I’d be hocking this watch or my championship rings. Sell my house, my wife would leave me because she and my kids are starving. I do not have a problem, I simply enjoy gambling.”

Conspiracy Theories

The controversial hobby sparked many conspiracy theories surrounding Michael Jordan’s major turning points in life. With many of them being addressed in his own documentary “The Last Dance”. 

Although most of them have little support, there are two main ones that never seem to fall out of fashion with fans who believe them to this very day.

Murder Of His Father

On July 23, 1993, Michael’s father, James Jordan, was murdered by two teenagers during a robbery gone wrong. He was shot in the chest on the side of a highway and dumped in the nearby swamp.

jordan and his father

Yet, many are convinced that James Jordan was being targeted by the mafia and that this was no mere random incident. The main reason fans came to this conclusion is because both James and Michael spent the night before in Atlantic City potentially racking up gambling debt.

This is of course just fan speculation and no investigation or facts supports these claims. Then again, with Michael Jordan’s gambling addiction, those claims don’t seem too out of touch for the general populous.

Retirement Or Suspension?

Shortly after the murder of his father in October 1993, Michael Jordan announced his retirement. This shocked the world as Jordan was still in the prime of his career and at the top of the NBA, performing with nothing but dominance. The reason for quitting was to pursue a baseball career in the minor leagues. The death of his father was a traumatic experience that influenced his decision as his father was a big baseball fan.

jordan playing baseball

His career as a professional baseball player only lasted for about 13 months, which is where the conspiracy picks up. Many people believe that his short retirement was just a cover-up for his year-long suspension. Michael Jordan has been under investigation for quite a while now by the NBA at this point, for his gambling habits. Moreover, the investigation was dropped just 3 days after his announcement further fueling theories and making people jump to conclusions. 

Is The Criticism Justified?

Fans and haters alike, criticize Jordan for gambling money carelessly away instead of donating it to charity or something of that sort. But after all, Michael Jordan is regarded as one of the greats for a reason. He worked hard for his wealth and it’s his right to use his money in any way he pleases.

jordan in paris

Furthermore, the basketball star is great at managing money. While his competitiveness makes his betting impulsive, so far it has only been responsible. Besides being a multiple-time MVP Michael Jordan is also an accomplished investor and owner of multiple businesses who is financially responsible.