'The Last Dance' gives the Michael Jordan gambling suspension theory the amount of respect it deserves

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” has reached the first retirement of Michael Jordan, and the producers opted to ask Jordan, David Stern and those around them about one of the more curious conspiracy theories in basketball history.

It went about how you might expect.

Did David Stern really suspend Michael Jordan for gambling?

As many know, the theory goes like this: Jordan enjoys gambling, to the point that it prompts then-NBA commissioner Stern to investigate him for any violations of the NBA rulebook. Seeking to avoid embarrassment, Stern suspends Jordan for 18 months, but allows him to keep the suspension a secret and play baseball instead.

Asking Jordan about the theory led to a firm denial.

“I didn’t retire because the league kicked me out or they suspended me for a year and a half. That is not true. There’s no truth to that,” Jordan said. “I needed a break. My father just passed. And I retired. And I retired with the notion that I wasn’t going to come back.”

Asking the man on the other side of the supposed conspiracy yielded similar results.

And when NBA communications advisor Brian McIntyre was asked, the answer was even more blunt.

“How can I put this delicately? ‘Total bulls---.’ Can you use that?” McIntyre said.

Such reactions are understandable when you actually break down the theory and what makes it so ridiculous.

For starters, one of the big points of a conspiracy theory is those involved actually benefit from the conspiracy. Under this plan, Jordan would have to accept 18 months of not being allowed to play the sport that turned him into an icon. Stern would have to accept losing the biggest athlete of the decade to another sport. The Bulls would have to accept losing Jordan.

Other NBA owners, who made millions from the league’s rise during Jordan’s peak, would have to either approve or be kept in the dark. And the whole thing would have to stay secret for decades, to this day. All so Jordan could learn a lesson about gambling that he clearly didn’t learn.

Stern would also have to be OK enough with Jordan’s gambling a few decades later to let the man become majority owner of an NBA team. None of that tracks.

Conspiracy theories are often crafted to ascribe a reason to a seemingly unexplainable event. Granted, Jordan’s retirement was one of the most shocking stories of the decade, but pushing the gambling suspension theory also ignores the murder of Jordan’s father. That was a very tragic, but substantial reason for why the biggest athlete on the planet would retire for another sport.

FILE - In this June 18, 1996, file photo, Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan, left, receives the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy from Commissioner David Stern during a ceremony in Chicago. The Bulls defeated the Seattle SuperSonics June 16 to win the basketball title. Stern announced during a news conference Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, that he will retire on Feb. 1, 2014, 30 years after he took charge of the league. He will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver. (AP Photo/Charles Bennett, File)
Did David Stern really suspend Michael Jordan? Probably not. (AP Photo/Charles Bennett, File)

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