May 5, 2020 — Michael Jordan paid a gambling debt to a drug dealer in North Carolina and then lied about it to authorities back in the 1990s at the peak of his NBA stardom and standing as the best basketball player in the world. Jordan, a North Carolina native, wrote infamous Charlotte narcotics trafficker, gambler and golf hustler James (Slim) Bouler a check for $57,000 in 1991 for bets lost on the links. When he was approached by investigators to inquire about the money, MJ misled them by saying it was a loan.
In the weeks before the 1992-1993 NBA campaign tipped off, his Airness was called to testify at Slim Bouler’s federal trial in Charlotte. He admitted he owed Bouler money from a weekend golf-course gambling spree, wrote him the check to square the debt and lied about it when originally asked to explain the situation in order to avoid embarrassment and scrutiny due to Bouler’s reputation.
Bouler’s trial lasted for two weeks in October 1992 and Bouler was convicted of five counts of money laundering and one count of illegal gun possession, but he was acquitted of cocaine distribution. His career rap sheet includes three busts for drug-related offenses.
Air Jordan and the two-time NBA world champion Chicago Bulls opened the season on November 6, 1992 with a 101-96 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jordan recorded a game-high 29 points in the victory. The Bulls “3-peated” that season and Jordan left professional basketball for 18 months amid rampant speculation of a gambling problem and grieving the murder of his dad.
According to FBI documents, Slim Bouler ran gambling and drug rackets out of the Golf Tech Pro Shop in Monroe, North Carolina. Bouler hustled on the driving range and the golf course at Monroe Country Club and maintained a coke and numbers lottery business with Charlotte drug world figures, James (Neddie) Johnson and Herman (Pee Wee) Givens. Per court filings, Bouler traveled around the country in the 1980s and early 1990s, staging pro-am tournaments and golf charity events headlined by NBA, NFL and pro boxing superstars he would bring with him and where he would hustle high rollers out of their money on the course over 72 holes.
Jordan met Bouler at the Monroe Country Club. On the witness stand on October 19, 1992, Jordan told the jury he played golf with Bouler on approximately 10 separate occasions. One of those occasions was in October 1991 at a high-stakes tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That’s where Jordan dropped the 57-large to him.
Jordan had ditched the Bulls trip to the White House to commemorate their recent world championship and visit President George H. Bush to hit the links with Bouler at the Hilton Head pro-am. Bouler was caught on an FBI wire discussing how he was going to try to wash the check Jordan gave him so the government didn’t get wind of it.
Months later, Neddie Johnson flipped and gave up Slim Bouler, telling the FBI that he and Pee Wee Givens bought drugs from him and used him to launder cocaine and numbers lottery proceeds. Bouler, 69, did eight years in prison and was released in 2001.
James Jordan, MJ’s father, was killed on July 23, 1993 as he took a nap behind the wheel of his new red-colored Lexus at a Lumberton, North Carolina highway rest-stop. His body was found 10 days later dumped in a South Carolina swamp. Larry Demery and Danny Green were convicted of the slaying. Police believe robbery was the motive and that Demery and Green didn’t know who they were sticking up and killing when they shot the elder Jordan to death while he slept and sped off with his wallet, cell phone and two NBA championship rings given to him by his son.
Shortly thereafter, an emotionally-devastated Jordan left the NBA and attempted a pro baseball career in the Chicago White Sox farm system. Jordan returned to the NBA in the spring of 1995 and won three more championships with the Bulls.