Michael Jordan was at the top of his game in June 1993 when he and the Chicago Bulls took their third straight NBA Championship.
The man known as “Sir Airness” was at that point a global icon, a three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist and made more money from endorsements than he did playing basketball. Jordan’s poster hung in every kid’s bedroom around the world, he was mobbed wherever he went, video games were based on his playing and cartoons portrayed him as a larger-than-life super hero.
Through it all, No. 23 of the Chicago Bulls seemed untouchable. Then tragedy struck.
In July 1993, just weeks after toppling the Phoenix Suns and his friend Charles Barkley in the NBA finals, Michael Jordan’s father James was murdered.
“I was really fortunate that my parents taught me what was right and what was wrong,” Michael Jordan told Inside Edition in a 1991 interview.
James Jordan was a force to be reckoned with. The former military man and his wife, Deloris, did whatever they could to provide for their five children.
When Michael was born in 1963 in Brooklyn, New York, his dad was working as a technician for GE and going to school through the GI Bill. By the early 1960s, crime was on the rise in the borough and the family moved back to James' native North Carolina.
Early in his life, Michael became a competitor thanks to the lessons his father taught him. When James would be in the garage working on a car or home project, his son, Larry, would be there lending a hand. When Michael would want to help, James would chastise his ignorance and masculinity, saying Michael would have no idea what tools to use and would tell him to go back inside. As a result, Michael was left wanting to prove something.
Larry and Michael competed both at home and in sports, like baseball and basketball.
James, a retired semi-pro basketball player himself, introduced his sons to baseball, which for most of his youth, Michael excelled at, until he developed a love of the court instead of the diamond.
Larry was poised to be the star athlete of the family due to his height and mass, but it was Michael who wanted to break the records and he did.
After getting cut from the Varsity team early in his high school career, Michael worked as hard as he could to prove everyone wrong. “If you want to bring out the best in Michael, tell him he can't do something or he can't do it as good as somebody else," his father said in archival footage in the ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance.”
Michael became not only the best basketball player in his high school, he was the best player in the state. He was recruited and played for UNC. There, Michael said he “went from Mike to Michael Jordan.” It wasn't long before the entire country soon knew his name. Opting out of his senior year of college, Jordan entered the NBA draft in 1984 and was taken third in the first round by the failing Chicago Bulls.
Michael captivated the city’s attention by his high flying antics on the court. Endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade and Hanes, would put him in every TV commercial and magazine. His dad even appeared with him in a 1990 Hanes commercial.
Three NBA championships followed between 1991 and 1993. All the while, a proud James Jordan was by his star son’s side.
While Michael's mother kept him on the straight and narrow the best she could by having her him appear at charity events, it was James who Michael wanted to constantly impress.
“I look at the fact that, no matter what happened to my father, he’s not here. So, he’s passed to me. I want to look at it in a good sense,” Michael Jordan told Oprah in 1993 about why he can’t say his dad was murdered.
By the mid-90s, the Jordan clan were busy.
Stories of how Michael hardly slept would be shared in many best-selling books including “Michael Jordan: A Life,” “The Jordan Rules” and “The Dream Team.” After basketball games, Michael often sat down to play cards. And he won big as often as he lost big.
The hobby eventually was considered a possible problem. In fact, the NBA launched a probe into Michael's gambling, but cleared him of any wrongdoing in 1993.
Jordan was on top of the world when just after midnight on July 23, 1993, tragedy struck. James was driving home to Charlotte, North Carolina after attending a funeral in Wilmington when he decided to park on the side of the road to take a nap.
There, he was shot in the heart in what authorities said was a botched robbery. He was just nine days away from turning 57.
Eleven days later, his body was found by a local fisherman in a swamp in McColl, South Carolina. The body was in such poor condition that the coroner could not determine the deceased's gender. The remains were labeled John Doe and he was cremated Aug. 7.
James' car was discovered 60 miles from his body in Fayetteville. The vehicle was one of his most prized possessions. The red Lexus SC400 had been a gift from his son, its vanity plate "UNC 023" both a nod to Michael's days at the University of North Carolina and his professional career.
Though James was scheduled to fly to Chicago the day he was shot dead, he was known for changing plans without notice, according to reports, and so his absence didn’t raise alarm. But when he didn't check in with his secretary after a significant period of time, she called Michael and his mother.
Twenty one passed before he was reported missing by the family. Not long after, John Doe was determined to be James. The father of the most famous man in the world had been killed. Now the hunt was on for who had done it.
“It’s been a very tough time for me to deal with it, and I don’t really have any feelings against them yet. I guess because it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Michael Jordan to Oprah Winfrey about the killers three months after his father’s death in 1993.
The news of James Jordan’s murder spread like wildfire.
Many initially speculated that it was a hit on the patriarch that was somehow related to his son’s gambling, but that was quickly debunked.
On Aug. 16, 1993, police in Fayetteville, North Carolina, arrested Daniel Green and Larry Demery, both 18, and charged them with murder in the first degree, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and armed robbery. They faced the death penalty.
Investigators said they began tracing calls made from the Lexus. Police said that over four days, 36 calls were made from James' car phone before the vehicle was abandoned. Days after the shooting, Daniel Green appeared in a music video wearing James' unique 1986 All-Star ring and gold watch. Green would later say he got the items when he was helping dispose of the body.
Jim Coman, an agent from the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation, said at a press conference at the time that James' killing was "the kind of random violence that all the public was concerned about and afraid of."
“Once they realized that it was Michael Jordan's father, they wanted to make sure they tried to cover their tracks the best way they could," Cumberland County Chief of Detectives Art Binder said of the teens. "It took them awhile before they decided South Carolina would be the place they would put the body.”
When cops found the car, it was stripped and had little to no blood inside.
"Every gunshot wound does not produce a lot of blood, and this particular case produced no blood in the interior of the car," Binder said.
The duo planned to carjack unsuspecting tourists in the middle of the night near a roadside motel when they noticed the Lexus parked nearby, according to reports. The duo didn’t realize who they carjacked until they started searching his belongings, officials said.
In a statement to police during his arrest, Demery said that it was Green who fired the gun. In April 1995, Demetry pleaded guilty to the murder charge against him and would later testify against his friend. Like Green, Demery was facing the death penalty but would not be sentenced until his friend’s trial concluded.
“The most positive thing I can take from my father not being here with me today is that he saw my last basketball game. And that means a lot,” Michael Jordan to the media when he announced his first retirement in 1993.
The family held a small funeral on Aug. 15, 1993. James' ashes rest at a cemetery next to a church in Teachy, North Carolina.
In January 1996, Green’s trial began. Demery took the stand to say that it was his friend who pulled the trigger. Green’s defense team argued that it was Demery who got their client involved in the aftermath of the shooting and he was never at the scene.
Nearly two months later, a jury found Green guilty of murder. In July 1993, both men were sentenced to life behind bars.
Green was also sentenced to life plus 10 years for conspiracy to commit robbery.
After being originally sentenced to life plus 40 years, Demery was resentenced in 2008 to just one life term, which made him eligible for parole.
In early 2020, Demery was up for parole again. His case is being reviewed.
“Demery has been denied parole twice: August of 2013 and October of 2016. He came up for parole review in August of 2019, the case was heard by the Post Release Supervision and Parole Commission, and no decision was rendered,” the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said to InsideEdition.com.
As for Green, he maintains he did not pull the trigger but did help dispose of the body. In 2018, a judge blocked his appeal for a new trial. He is up for parole in October 2021, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Fifty two days after his father’s murder, Michael Jordan shocked the sporting world when he announced his first retirement from basketball. The game that had given so much had lost its most prolific star. Jordan took a brief sabbatical and opted to try his talents at baseball, his father’s favorite sport.
In February 1994, he signed with the Birmingham Barons, becoming a member of the Chicago White Sox minor league baseball team. After one season, he returned to the NBA in the spring of 1995.
Jordan would later win three more championships with the Chicago Bulls before leaving the team in 1998 and retiring for a second time. He would later join the Washington Wizards in 2001 and played for them until 2003 when he was reportedly asked to leave the club.
Jordan is still considered the greatest basketball player of all time by many, including his contemporaries. He is still a global figure thanks to his iconic sneaker and clothing brands and currently owns part of the Charlotte Hornets. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2009 and in 2014, was named by Forbes magazine as the first billionaire basketball star.
"My father used to say that it’s never too late to do anything you wanted to do," Jordan told The New York Times in 1994. "And he said you never know what you can accomplish until you try."