Michael Jordan shocked the world when he opted to retire after the 1992-93 NBA season. This ground gets covered in episode seven of The Last Dance, with longtime reporter Andrea Kremer alluding to the fact that “nobody could rationalize” why the best basketball player in the world, fresh off of three championships and still in his athletic prime, would hang them up.
Of course, there was a lot of speculation at the time — some of which still exists to this day — about whether this was a retirement at all. For a myriad of reasons, people found it plausible that Jordan’s time away from the league was actually a league-mandated suspension.
“Look at some of the events that have recently happened,” Kremer said. “His father was tragically murdered, there’s a number of questions about his gambling, you start to connect some dots and you think, ‘Is this all related? Was this a secret suspension?’”
“The retirement, there were any number of people who would say, ‘Well, David Stern suspended him, right? Wink wink, a suspension, right?’” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said. “And that was out there.”
Plenty of folks interviewed made cases for why the case for this was tenuous at best, but prior to his passing earlier this year, former NBA commissioner David Stern — who presided over the league at the time of Jordan’s first retirement (and, for that matter, his next two retirements, too) — addressed this in the documentary.
“The folklore, the urban legend, that I sent him away because he was gambling, ridiculous,” Stern said. “No basis in fact whatever. I can bang on a table and say it’s a calumny, slanderous lie or whatever. It’s just not true. Never was, never will be, no matter how many times people ask the question.”
Jordan confirmed in the doc that he just needed a break, while longtime associate Mark Vancil claimed that Jordan laid out, in detail, what he was going to do a year before he pressed the eject button.
“The conspiracy stuff was stupid because I had sat with him a year earlier, he had told me what he was gonna do,” Vancil said. “In tummer of ’92 and it’s the Dream Team summer, you could tell he was really tired, as tired as he’d looked and as beat up as he looked. And I said, ‘So what’re you gonna do?’ There’s a long pause and he said, ‘I’m gonna shock the world.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna quit and go play baseball.’ And I said, ‘When?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’d do it right now, except Bird and Magic never went three in a row and I gotta do the Olympics. But if it wasn’t for that, I’d be playing this summer.’”
As the doc touched on, it is quite easy to piece together how a secret suspension could have been plausible. But either the NBA is full of a whole lot of people who are incredible liars, or Jordan really did retire for the reason that everyone has said led to his retirement for decades.