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Volume 23 No. 28
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Calling Michael Jordan was easy. Asking about gambling losses wasn’t

Midway through Episode 6 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” the highly rated documentary introduces Michael Jordan’s gambling losses to a convicted felon, James “Slim” Bouler. The show characterized Bouler as a golf hustler who worked his way into Jordan’s inner circle and took tens of thousands of dollars, maybe more, off Jordan around 1991-92.

 

What “The Last Dance” left out was the rest of the story.

A young Michael Smith was working for a Gastonia, N.C., newspaper in the early 1990s when he tracked down Jordan in his hotel room.

The news of Jordan’s $108,000 in gambling losses broke in a small-town newspaper outside of Charlotte, The Gaston Gazette, where I was a sportswriter at the time. The Gazette ran the story after a local bondsman was gunned down and robbed in his front yard. Inside the briefcase of the slain man, Eddie Dow, were three checks signed by Jordan to allegedly cover debts from losses playing cards and golf.

The way I remember it, Dow was like the banker for the golf and card games that included some of the most colorful characters in and around Monroe, N.C., another Charlotte suburb.

Months earlier, Jordan was questioned about a $57,000 check to Bouler in a separate investigation.

The Gaston Gazette story on March 19, 1992, detailed the checks, all of which totaled $108,000. A follow-up story three days later posed the headline, “Err Jordan?” The newspaper ran a copy of one of the checks with Jordan’s name, home address just outside of Chicago, and his signature. The paper should have redacted his home address; call it a rookie mistake.

After the checks became public, the NBA questioned Jordan about his gambling before deciding against any disciplinary action.

I covered the Charlotte Hornets for The Gazette at the time, and it was my job, as “the NBA guy,” to question Jordan about the three checks found in Dow’s possession. I was sitting in a Charlotte apartment, and the Chicago Bulls, looking for a second straight NBA title, were in Maryland to play the Washington Bullets.

Knowing that a lot of teams stayed at the Greenbelt Marriott, I called the hotel and asked for Michael Jordan’s room. The call went through, even though it was common practice for players to register under an alias. Jordan answered the phone — I recognized his voice immediately. I introduced myself and began asking questions about the three checks and the murdered bondsman. My knees were shaking under the kitchen table where I sat with a pen and notepad as Jordan denied all knowledge.

I knew I had to press him because we had seen the checks. Finally, Jordan said, “You’re not listening to me. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

We hung up, and I filed a paragraph stating Jordan’s denial. The story broke the next morning. By the time the big papers in Chicago and New York put their spin on it, The Gazette, in the days before the internet, lost credit for the story. But for a few days, it was a thrill to be at the center of the NBA world.