The Death of James Jordan: What We Know

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In 1993, Michael Jordan was on top of the basketball world. He had won three straight N.B.A. championships with the Chicago Bulls and an Olympic gold medal with the heralded Dream Team. There seemed to be no ceiling to his fame. And with him every step of the way was the person he considered his closest confidant, his father, James Jordan.

That is, until that summer, when James Jordan was missing for several weeks beginning in late July and was found in August, shot once through the chest. His car, a red Lexus SC400, had been found with its windows broken near Fayetteville, N.C., while his body was found about 60 miles away in a creek by a fisherman near McColl, S.C., though it wasn’t immediately identified as Jordan.

Two young men, close acquaintances with criminal records, were charged with murder: Larry Martin Demery and Daniel Andre Green, who the authorities at the time said had used a phone from Jordan’s Lexus and had been connected to recent robberies. Demery was 17 at the time of his arrest and Green was 18.

The authorities said James Jordan was killed in the early hours of July 23 as he napped along a North Carolina highway. They described the shooting as a random act of violence — a carjacking — but that didn’t stop speculation that there was more to the story, namely that the killing was connected to Michael Jordan’s gambling.

The death devastated Michael Jordan, and two months later he retired from the N.B.A. for the first time — causing a seismic shock in the sports world.

“It made me realize how short life is, how quickly things can end, how innocently,” Jordan said at the news conference announcing his retirement. “And I thought that there are times in one’s life when you have to put games aside. I wanted to give more time to my family. I’ve been very selfish about centering things on my basketball career. Now it’s time to be unselfish with them.”

In 1995, Demery pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, among other charges, and agreed to testify against Green. Much of the state’s case rested on Demery’s testimony, and Green was also convicted of first-degree murder. Both were given life sentences.

This chapter of Jordan’s life is set to be explored on Sunday night’s episodes of “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary about the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.

ImageLarry Demery, left, and Daniel Green, charged with murdering James Jordan, left the courthouse in Lumberton, N.C., after a hearing in 1993.
Credit…Jim Bounds/Associated Press

The Latest

Demery, now 44, is being considered for parole by the North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission. He has been denied parole twice, in August 2013 and October 2016, according to a commission spokesman. The most recent review began last August, but the commission did not rule, instead requesting more information. According to the spokesman, the review is continuing, and there is no deadline to make a decision. The hearings are not public.

Green will be eligible for parole on Oct. 14, 2021, though he has maintained that he is innocent and has tried to get a new trial for years. In January, a North Carolina judge rejected Green’s latest request for a new trial. Green’s lawyer, Christine Mumma, said on Friday that Green would petition the appellate court to reconsider the judge’s order.

Demery testified that Green walked up to the Lexus intending to hold Jordan at gunpoint and rob him. As a napping Jordan began to wake, Demery said, Green shot him while Demery stood nearby.

But Green, now 45, has told a different story. On July 22, 1993, the day before James Jordan was killed, Green and Demery were attending a party, according to a jailhouse interview Green did with The Chicago Tribune in 2018. Demery, in Green’s account, left the party early and returned overnight — shaken — and told Green that he had shot a man off a highway. He asked Green for help in disposing the body, which Green provided. Green has said that he was not present for the shooting.

There was limited physical evidence. James Jordan’s body was cremated shortly after it was found in the creek because it was so badly decomposed.

The Aftermath

Because of Michael Jordan’s high profile, his father’s disappearance and death became one of the biggest stories in the world. Conspiracy theories arose almost immediately.

In the years just before the killing, Jordan’s gambling habit had become public, tainting his sterling public image. Jordan was known to gamble at casinos between playoff games, like taking one jaunt with his father to Atlantic City, N.J., in 1993, right before an Eastern Conference finals game against the Knicks.

Some sports columnists spurred speculation about possible ties between Jordan’s gambling and his father’s death, prompting a frustrated Jordan to put out a statement in the days after the murder.

“I am trying to deal with the overwhelming feelings of loss and grief in a way that would make my dad proud,” Jordan said at the time. “I simply cannot comprehend how others could intentionally pour salt in my open wound by insinuating that faults and mistakes in my life are in some way connected to my father’s death.”

The Retirement

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Credit…Tim Boyle/Associated Press

Two months after James Jordan’s death, Michael announced that he was retiring — one of the most astonishing retirements in sports history.

At a news conference, Jordan said his father had suggested he retire after he won his first championship with the Bulls, in 1991, but Jordan then said that his father’s death was not why he was leaving the N.B.A.

“I have nothing more to prove in basketball,” Jordan said, “I have no more challenges that I felt I could get motivated for. It doesn’t have anything to do with my father’s passing, or media pressure, or anything other than that I had achieved everything in basketball I could.”

Jordan would go on to try his hand at professional baseball with the Birmingham Barons, a minor league team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox, before returning to the N.B.A. late in the 1994-95 season. He retired twice more, in 1998 and 2003, and won three more championships with the Bulls.

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