One of the questions many had about The Last Dance, given Michael Jordan’s heavy involvement in the production of the documentary, was how much it would touch on certain subjects like his gambling and the controversy stories of how much and often he gambled sparked in the early 1990s.
Sure enough, the sixth episode focuses heavily on that, from the Atlantic City incident during the 1993 playoffs — which Jordan still insists was nothing and that he was back by around midnight — to Michael & Me, a book that came out during that time that alleged he had a gambling addiction. That’s something Jordan has refuted for years. He will happily tell you he enjoys gambling but says it’s not a problem as he’s not gambling beyond his means — his means are just far more than the average person and, as such, the sums he bets seem wildly irresponsible.
There’s a famous interview, shown in the doc, where he says he doesn’t have a gambling problem, he has a competitive problem, and, at the least, that is on display early in the episode. Jordan is shown gambling for $20 in the training room at the United Center with security guards on who can toss a quarter closer to the wall — which, to be honest, I could watch all day. Will Perdue also recalls card games on the plane, and how sometimes Jordan would leave the big money game in the back to come play $1 blackjack with the guys in the front of the plane who weren’t about to put up thousands of dollars — and why Jordan said he did it.
“Scottie, Michael, Ron Harper. These guys would play cards in the back of the plane for major money. I’m talking about thousands of dollars,” Perdue said. “And me, John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong, we would play blackjack in the front of the plane for a dollar a hand. He knows that we would never play with him in the back because it was just too much money. But he would come up to the front and he’s like, ‘What are you guys doing? You mind if I play?’ I remember John Paxson looking at him and going, ‘Why in the hell do you wanna play with us? We’re playing for a dollar a hand.’ And I remember he looked at him and said, ‘Because I want to be able to say I got your money in my pocket.'”
It’s a tremendous story and up until the end you might could’ve pretended Jordan was just trying to be a good leader and making sure he, as the star, was involved with everyone on the team. That is until you get to the part where he says he wanted to be able to say he took their money, even if it was just a few dollars. As someone that’s dealt $1 blackjack to friends, operating as the house, it is a very fun way to pass the time and, yes, it can be fun to take a few dollars off your buddies. I have to imagine Jordan is absolutely vicious as the dealer, trash talking whenever he rolls out to beat someone who has doubled down.