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He was the billion dollar king of the court and Michael Jordan had it all – the talent, the toys and the women who threw themselves at his feet. But he was haunted by demons that stalked him most of his life.
Now 50, the basketball genius never stopped seeking the approval of a dismissive father, the same father who was accused of sexually assaulting his sister and later was violently murdered. The six-time NBA champ couldn’t overcome the compulsion of his golf and gambling addictions.
And he felt intense racial anger as a teenager when he learned how racial hatred had impacted his own family, according to a new book: Michael Jordan: The Life, by Roland Lazenby and published by Little, Brown and Company.
He's got game: Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan was the undisputed king of the court. By 1999, with his endorsements and investments, his wealth was estimated at as much as $500 million and he was described as the first billion dollar athlete
‘It was my father’s early treatment of him and Daddy’s declaration of his worthlessness that became the driving force that motivated him’, Michael’s sister Deloris, nicknamed Sis, recalls. ‘Each accomplishment was his battle cry for defeating my father’s negative opinions of him’.
‘You don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Go on in there with the women’, James Jordan once told his son, chasing him from the room.
‘Of the millions of sentences that James uttered to his youngest son, the fourth of five children, ‘this was the one that glowed neon-bright across the decades’. T
The mean words were a challenge to his adolescent masculinity. The backyard battles between him and his older brother, Larry, the favored son, set the pattern for his relentless drive and how he related to teammates throughout his whole career. He would bully them – the way he had been treated.
Born prematurely in Brooklyn, NY on February 17, 1963, Michael’s mother Deloris almost miscarried when she learned that her mother back in N.C had suddenly died.
The large baby she was carrying came suddenly and was delivered on a hospital gurney, struggling to breathe with his lungs filled with mucous. He was also born with a nosebleed, a condition that caused him to have frequent nosebleeds until he was five-years-old.
High roller: In 1990 Michael lost $1.25 million betting on a series of golf games. Now 51, Michael is still a player
Michael was always a godsend to Deloris, who viewed the boy as the happiness God sent her after a heartbreaking time in her life when she lost her mother.
The marriage of Michael’s parents was fraught with violent battles with James allegedly delivering knockout punches at times. The family was never without ‘a lurking element of fear', writes Lazenby, a basketball journalist who spent almost 30 years covering Jordan's time in college and then the NBA and beyond.
According to Sis, when Deloris realized her daughter was sexually active, she called her a slut which prompted Sis to declare, ‘If I’m such a slut, why don’t you keep your husband out of my bed’?
James Jordan had been climbing into bed with the little girl for eight years starting when she was a preschooler, Sis claimed.
‘Her father first explained that he was teaching her to kiss like an adult,’ and the abuse escalated over time.
When forced to confront her father, he lunged at her and began choking her saying she misunderstood his affection. Michael was only 12 at the time in 1975 and never knew about the abuse until years later.
First family: Michael married Juanita in 1989, even though his parents didn't like her. After three kids, the divorced in 1996, when she won a $150 million settlement
While Michael was growing up in Wilmington, NC, the Ku Klux Klan was still dominant and North Carolina had more Klan members than the rest of the South combined. The Klan bought uniforms for ball teams and Bibles for all the schools. White supremacy ruled the South and black athletes were told they were inferior.
As a kid in the late seventies, Michael played Little League baseball before he ever hit basketball courts. He was one of two blacks on the team.
As a kid in the late seventies, Michael played Little League baseball before he ever hit basketball courts. He was one of two blacks on the team. Racial animosity prevailed and youth baseball was still a white game.
When Michael watched the ABC miniseries Roots in 1977, which depicted the inhumanity of the African American experience, he understood for the first time what his ancestors had endured. His eyes were now open to the painful racism his own family had lived through in the cauldron of racial hatred in the South.
When Michael watched the ABC miniseries Roots in 1977, which depicted the inhumanity of the African American experience, he understood for the first time what his ancestors had endured. His eyes were now open to the painful racism his own family had experienced.had lived through years of racial hatred in the South.
Later that same year, when a girl at school called Michael a 'n****r,' 'I threw a soda at her', he states. ‘I was really rebelling. I considered myself a racist at the time’, said Jordan. ‘Basically, I was against all white people’.
He was suspended for the incident and his mother did not want him to go through life consumed with racial hatred and bitterness.
She made him sit in her car while she worked in the bank so she could watch him. She lectured to him over and over that ‘it would be easy to hate people for the rest of your life… you’ve got to deal with what’s happening now and try to make things better’.
Bully: Michael's father James demeaned his son and sexually violated his daughter. He was murdered in 1993 and it drove Michael into a tailspin. To this day the baller sits in his office and talks to his father: 'What do you think of me now Pops?'
In the fall of '78, at age 15, Michael went out for the varsity football team at Laney High School. He was still too skinny, too short at 5'10", and had to settle for playing Junior Varsity. This setback was deeply disappointing and ignited an obsession to grow taller.
Attempting to alleviate the boy’s anxiety, his mother told him to put salt in his shoes and pray for a growth spurt. So they prayed together daily, he prayed alone at the end of each day, in the morning and all during the day.
He also hung from a bar to stretch out. By summer, he was six seven and joined the varsity team, the Buccaneers and made friends for the first time -- but he couldn't get a date.
That didn't last. He would become a player off the court as well as on wherever he traveled.
Michael's success on the varsity basketball team attracted coaches from the University of North Carolina who were eager to sign the star shooter when he graduated. The team's away games became an addiction for his parents who traveled to every game but they could hardly afford it.
James wanted Michael contribute to the family expenses so he got him a job as a hotel maintenance man, cleaning pools, sweeping, changing air-conditioning filters – for $3.10 an hour.
Snub: Michael took offense to the star Magic Johnson when he learned that Lakers star had encouraged the team owner Jerry Buss to trade Michael's pal James Worthy. He publicly snubbed Magic and never forgave him
But it wasn't to be. A friend of Michael's had drowned when they were out riding the waves together and the current caught the pal. The boy's hand locked up on Michael as he was slipping away.
‘I almost had to break his hand. He was gonna take me with him…He died. I don’t do water anymore.. Everybody’s got a phobia for something. I do not mess with water. I said, never again. I may be a wino first, but I will not have a nine-to-five job’.
Nike had been approached by a man named Sonny Vaccaro about making shoes for basketball teams and paying coaches to have their players wear Nikes. When Vaccaro first saw Jordan, he was the best player he had ever seen and he suggested Nike create a whole product line around Michael – Air Jordan.
At 21, Michael didn’t care about the shoe business and wanted to wear Adidas. Vaccaro said they’d throw a car into the deal and pay him $2.5 million over five years with a 25 percent royalty on each shoe sold. It was unprecedented, given Jordan was headed for the Bulls, a team poorly managed and under the shadow of its hard partying culture of the ‘70s.
He hadn’t played a minute of pro ball when he was offered this pot of gold.
Jordan viewed the red and black of the new shoe as ‘the devil’s color’ and had to be convinced by his mother to accept the deal. Adidas couldn’t come close.
Golden: Michael sits with wife Juanita and his dad James after the Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. Jordan is a six time champ
The first Air Jordan was released in 1985 and drew an immediate ban from the NBA, that insisted players wear white shoes. Any infraction would cost the player $5,000 each time he wore the colored shoes.
Nike said, ‘F*** ‘em,’ Vaccaro recalled. Nike would pay the fine. It was a smart bet. Jordan’s play, the ban and marketing sent sales through the roof earning Nike $150 million in Air Jordan sales over the first three years.
At The All Star Weekend of 1985, draped in gold necklaces, the rookie Jordan was arrogant and standoffish and took offense at star players, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. When Jordan learned that Lakers star Magic Johnson had encouraged the team owner Jerry Buss to trade his old friend James Worthy, he publicly snubbed Magic and never forgave him.
Michael believed that games’ established stars were against him when he played only 22 minutes and took just nine of the team’s 120 shots. It was a freeze out and he never forgot that day. ‘That was the first public snubbing of Michael Jordan’. He wanted to crawl into a hole.
In December 1985 of his rookie year, he met Juanita Vanoy, a beautiful model who had grown up on the south side of Chicago and had been a former flame of one of his friends.
She was classy, intelligent and Jordan was immediately attracted to her but his parents weren't, and appeared to be jealous of her stealing Michael's attentions.
Two years later, New Year’s Eve, 1987, Michael proposed to Juanita and before tying the know, they bought a house in Chicago and began planning a life together. Their first child would be a year old before he married Juanita in 1989 in a quickie wedding in Las Vegas's Little White Wedding Chapel between golfing and gambling outings.
Marriage didn't mean that Michael would spend more time at home. He continued being secretive about his weekends of gambling, golf and card games.
In the summer of 1990, he began playing high stakes golf matches with Richard Esquinas, part owner of the San Diego Sports Arena. Esquinas lost $98,000 to Jordan in one day and wanted a double-or-nothing bet to try and win it back.
Model wife: In 2011, he proposed to Yvette Prieto, a Cuban-American model. They married in April 2013 and have twin daughters
Jordan accepted the bet and had a ten-day golfing spree where Jordan lost the $98,000 as well as an additional $626,000. Now HE wanted double or nothing. Esquinas said, ‘If I beat you, that’s it. No More of this double or nothing’. Jordan lost bringing his total debt to $1.252 million.
Esquinas had a hard time collecting and later revealed Jordan told him, ‘Rich, I just might as well shoot you as to give you a check for $1.2 mil’.
More trouble loomed. In December 1991 James Slim Bouler, a convicted cocaine dealer, turned up with a $57,000 check Jordan had written to him. Both claimed the money was a loan but Jordan would be served with a subpoena to testify against the dealer.
The following February, bail bondsman, Eddie Dow, was murdered during a robbery at his home. Among the stolen monies were three checks totaling $108,000 written by Jordan. They were for gambling debts owed by Jordan to another man. He had lost the money at golfing and gambling parties he had hosted at his Hilton Head Island residence.
Other rumours plagued Michael. One, claims Lazenby, was that he had ‘wagered large sums with teammates over which Hollywood starlets he would bed during the team’s West Coast road swings’. Says the author. ‘He was likewise rumored to have collected on at least one such bet,’ but the girl remain unnamed.
Jordan was spending most of his time off the court playing golf, marathon poker games and hanging out with his entourage and other women.
In the summer of 1993 James Jordan got into his Lexus and headed across the state to bury an old friend who had passed away.
Days later, the car was found off a main road in North Carolina, smashed and stripped. His badly decomposed body was found in South Carolina. He had died of a single .38-caliber gunshot wound to the chest. The coroner collected the jawbones and hands from the unidentified corpse and order a cremation of the remains.
No. 23: Roland Lazenby's biography of Michael Jordan lays bare the secret - and not-so-secret - demons of the incredible hoopster
When the teenage murderers learned they had killed Michael Jordan’s father, they had tried to cover their tracks. They kept the Lexus three days, took videos of themselves boasting about the event and then abandoned the car about 60 miles from where they’d left the body.
After that Michael lost his motivation to play.
He had been lost since his father’s murder in August, and each succeeding account of the details served to intensify his grief, says the author. It changed and hardened him. When he played ball now, he used anger and mental intimidation.
He’d say to other players, ‘Shoot it, you f******g midget’ or ‘you’re not black enough’. He called one player a ‘f****t’. ‘When you flipped that competitive switch with him, he’d rip your heart out,’ Jim Stack stated who worked for the Bulls.
In 1995-96, Jordan was making $40 million off the court in his Nike deal, endorsements of Gatorade, French fries at McDonalds, Hanes Briefs, golf balls, books, trading cards. By 1999, with his endorsements and investments, his wealth was estimated at as much as $500 million and he was described as the first billion dollar athlete.
When he talked about retiring and leading a quiet existence as a regular dad, he tried but golf courses seduced him. His customized Golfstream IV named Jump 23 -- 23 for his jersey number -- was always waiting to take him to virtual orgies of golfing and gambling.
He would be accused of pulling his pal Tiger Woods in his orbit when one of Tiger’s golf reps blamed Jordan and his bacchanalian pursuits for Tiger’s very public downfall.
Jordan made a play for a woman in a Washington, DC nightspot that hit the press and Juanita finally filed for divorce in 2002. They reconciled but the marriage faced irreconcilable differences. It was over in December 2006 but not before the couple had two sons, Jeffrey Michael and Marcus James and a daughter, Jasmine.
The divorce cost Jordan $150 million.
In this same year, 2006, a Cook County judge in Chicago, ruled that Jordan did not owe his former lover Karla Knafel the $5 million dollars she was claiming he had promised her if she kept their relationship a secret. He was not the father of a baby she claimed was his back in 1991.
In 2011, he proposed to Yvette Prieto, a Cuban-American model he met two years earlier and they married in April 2013. They announced they were expecting identical twin girls who were born in February.
Jordan now owns a stake in the Charlotte Bobcats.
Before each game, he sits in his office and talks with his dad. ‘What do you think of me now, Pops’?