Michael Jordan can afford it, so leave him alone. That's the reaction of many people to the latest gambling allegations involving the Chicago Bull star. So what if San Diego businessman Richard Esquinas says in his self-published book, Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction...My Cry For Help!, that Jordan lost huge amounts gambling on golf? Doesn't Jordan make huge amounts?
Yes, he does, but his gambling activities are troubling all the same. The sums Jordan is said to wager are not mere pocket change—not even to him, to judge by Esquinas's charges that Jordan welshed on paying up. Certainly the bets are big enough to attract the sort of heavy-duty gamblers who might try to use IOUs to gain inside information or an even more insidious edge in wagering on NBA games. What makes all this even more worrisome is Esquinas's suggestion that Jordan is a compulsive gambler. By definition, gambling addicts are out of control, and even extremely wealthy gamblers can self-destruct, a case in point being former Philadelphia Eagle owner Leonard Tose, who was ruined by casino-gambling losses totaling tens of millions of dollars.
In his book, which will be published this month, Esquinas writes that he and Jordan played some 100 rounds of golf for money over several months in 1991 and that at the end of one 10-day spree Jordan owed him $1.25 million. According to Esquinas, Jordan played the debt down to $902,000, and when Jordan was slow to pay, they agreed to settle for $300,000. Esquinas maintains that Jordan has paid him only $200,000 to date. Esquinas admits to being a compulsive gambler and writes of Jordan, "I wonder if he has much more of a problem with gambling than I do.... I assure you that his family, friends and advisers are aware of his problem."
Jordan issued a statement acknowledging that he has played golf and bet on matches with Esquinas. But he added, "Because I did not keep records, I cannot verify how much I won or lost. I can assure you that the level of our wagers was substantially less than the preposterous amounts that have been reported." Jordan also expressed regret that a supposed friend of his "would shamelessly exploit my name for selfish gain."
Indeed, in releasing advance copies of his book to the press at the height of the NBA playoffs—and no doubt mindful of the flap over Jordan's mid-playoff casino foray—Esquinas comes off as, at best, an opportunist. But then Jordan's judgment in picking his friends is part of the reason to be concerned about him. Those friends have also included Eddie Dow and James (Slim) Bouler. Dow, a bail bondsman, was shot to death in Gastonia, N.C., in February 1992. Authorities found photocopies of checks from Jordan for $108,000 in Dow's briefcase; Dow's brother and lawyer said the checks were written, at least in part, to cover gambling losses. Bouler, with whom Jordan frequently played golf, pleaded guilty in 1986 to selling and possessing cocaine and was convicted in 1989 of violating probation by possessing semiautomatic weapons. Bouler is serving a federal prison sentence for money laundering and gun violations after being convicted last October in a trial at which Jordan testified that a $57,000 check he wrote to Bouler was partly in payment for golf and poker debts.
Jordan's responses to these matters have damaged his credibility. Until his court appearance he had said that the check to Bouler was for a loan to build a driving range, not for gambling losses. And his assertion that there are no records of his payments to Esquinas may not be accurate: Esquinas says that some of the money he has received from Jordan came in cashier's checks sent by a law firm and that he has received other sums in checks written by Jordan's business representatives. Neither Jordan nor his agent, David Falk, would comment.
The NBA said it was investigating Esquinas's allegations, but as of Monday it had been otherwise silent on the subject. Like other pro leagues, the NBA makes a big show of combating the use of illicit drugs, one rationale being that players using such drugs risk coming into contact with gamblers. Yet its biggest star is already involved with gamblers. The NBA should say, in no uncertain terms, where it stands on gambling—Michael Jordan's in particular.
Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Mize died at age 80 last week in his birthplace of Demorest, Ga. Mize was not called the Big Cat because of his feline grace as a first baseman. He was given the nickname by New York Giant teammate Bill Rigney, who saw him sprawled in the sun one day at the Polo Grounds and said, "Look at him. He looks just like a big cat."