Wherever Michael Jordan went, James Jordan was close behind.
The NBA superstar’s number one fan was his father, who rarely missed a game and became just as big around the Chicago Bulls arena as his son was.
A father to four children, James helped push Michael into becoming a sporting megastar and followed his son throughout his career.
The two were inseparable and he became the ear to which Michael could always turn.
“He was my rock. You know, we were very close. He constantly gave me advice,” Michael says on The Last Dance.
“He’s a voice of reason that always drove and challenged me, that’s the type of father I had,” he added as he fought back tears.
But in July, 1993 James’ life came to a gruesome end at the hands of two 18-year-olds.
Michael, who had helped the Bulls secure their third straight title when they toppled the Phoenix Suns, was on the verge of calling time on his illustrious career when his father vanished and his world was turned upside down.
James had travelled to Wilmington, North Carolina and hit the road for the three-hour drive back to Charlotte on July 22, 1993.
On July 23, 1993, he was supposed to arrive in Chicago for a charity event, but never showed up at the airport. Deloris Jordan, Michael’s mum, hadn’t heard from her husband, immediately setting off alarm bells.
“I was off doing my thing, and my mum said she hadn’t talked to him in some time,” Jordan says.
“He drives and goes down to Wilmington to visit old friends, stay a couple of days, drive back, but my mother’s always in dialogue with him.
“When she got worried, we all got worried.”
Days went by without communication before the days turned into weeks. Authorities discovered his car, which had been stripped down and hidden in the woods near Fayetteville, North Carolina.
It was missing its licence plates and its windows were smashed.
On August 3, the body of a man who would later be identified as James Jordan was found in a creek near the border between South and North Carolina.
As authorities put it, after driving late at night James Jordan had pulled over to take a nap, but he was woken by two men who shot him once in the chest.
QUESTIONS REMAIN OVER DEATH
The two 18-year-old men, Daniel Green and Larry Demery, were charged with first-degree murder and handed life sentences. But both have continued to allege it was the other who pulled the fatal trigger that ended the life of James Jordan.
In 2018, Green was denied a bid for a new trial in which he stated the original trial overlooked or ignored important evidence relating to the murder.
Green to this day remains steadfast; claiming he wasn’t there the night James Jordan was murdered, but admitting to helping dump the body and stealing possessions from the vehicle.
Questions surrounding James’ death remain to this day.
On August 7, two weeks after the murder, the body of James was cremated by a South Carolina coroner before he had been identified. On August 12, 21 days after the murder, the Jordan family reported he was missing before his body was identified through dental records on August 13.
The case against the men states James was shot through the heart at close range as he sat in the driver’s seat. However, a coroner’s report indicated there was not only no gun powder in the vehicle, but no blood found in the car either.
Furthermore, the shirt being worn by James the night he was killed was brought into question with the holes in it not matching the testimony given during the trial.
In their bid for a new trial, Green’s lawyers claimed the shirt was tampered with following an autopsy. The original autopsy report indicated there was no hole in the shirt where James was shot.
Accounts of the night in question differ between both men with Demery saying it was Green who walked up to the car and pulled the trigger. Green on the other hand says both men were at a party when Demery left early, before returning shaken and asking for Green’s help after he told he had just shot a man off the highway.
Both Green and Demery remain behind bars, serving out their life sentences.
UGLY MEDIA FALLOUT FROM MURDER
Speculation ran rife in the days after James’ body was discovered. Michael became an unlikely target, with several media outlets alluding to his gambling habit as a potential motive behind the grisly murder.
“When his dad was murdered, all the articles, the speculation that came out, it was not journalism’s finest hour,” former NBA Vice President of Public Relations Brian McIntyre says on The Last Dance.
The Jordan Rules author Sam Smith adds: “That was really bad, that was really unfair.
“Imagine your father gets killed and they’re blaming you? That was really cheap-shot stuff.”
The speculation saw Jordan’s relationship with the media reach breaking point. The Bulls superstar was understandably furious at being linked to his father’s murder.
“It did hurt, but you had people that were throwing darts who wanted to hurt me anyway,” Jordan says on The Last Dance.
“It wasn’t from the people that I loved, or people that knew me and people that care. It was the people that got tired of me being on top.”
The Bulls legend issued a statement at the time as the speculation continued to mount, expressing his disbelief people would attempt to link his gambling to his father’s demise.
“There isn’t a thimble’s worth of evidence to connect that horrible incident to Michael Jordan’s gambling or any other aspect of Michael Jordan’s behaviour,” sportscaster Bob Costas says on The Last Dance.
Despite the theories linking the death to Michael’s gambling habits, police at the time said the incident had no relevance and it “could have been any one of us”.
Shortly after the death of his dad, Jordan stepped away from basketball before returning to the league in 1995 and leading Chicago to another three-peat to finish his career as a six-time NBA champion.
Episodes seven and eight of The Last Dance will air on Netflix Australia on May 11 with the final two episodes to be released the following week.