"We were very close," the NBA legend said of his father in the ESPN docuseries, The Last Dance

By Benjamin VanHoose and Morgan M. Evans
May 11, 2020 09:28 AM
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Michael Jordan and father James Jordan in February 1988.
Robert Mora/NBAE via Getty Images

Michael Jordan is opening up about the impact his father had on his life.

On Sunday, ESPN aired the seventh and eighth episodes of The Last Dance, the 10-part docuseries that tells the story of the basketball legend during his final 1997-1998 NBA season with the Chicago Bulls. The recent installments saw Jordan, 57, reflecting on a dark period in his life — the murder of his father, James.

"He was my rock," the NBA icon said. "... We were very close. He constantly gave me advice. I remember in ninth grade I got suspended three times in one year, and my father pulled me aside that summer and said: 'Look, you don't look like you're heading in the right direction. You know, if you want to go about doing all this mischievous stuff, you can forget sports.'"

He continued, "That's all I needed to hear. From that point on, it was like tunnel vision and I never got in trouble from that point on."

In July 1993, James was shot and killed while sleeping in his car at a highway rest stop in Robeson County, North Carolina. His body was found 11 days later after being dumped off a bridge in South Carolina. He was 56.

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On The Last Dance, Jordan emotionally recalls the complicated, difficult time grieving his father and deciding how to move forward with his athletic career, all while juggling fame and the spotlight. He said his mother, Deloris, was "strong" throughout the trying time.

"The first thing she says, 'You know, you got to be thankful,' and I started looking at the positive," Jordan explained.

He also called his father the "voice of reason" who "always drove and challenged me" in the docuseries.

"One of the things that [my dad] always taught me is that you have to take a negative and turn it into a positive, so I started looking to the other side of it, and that helped me get through it," Jordan said.

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Following his father's death, the Chicago Bulls star shocked fans everywhere when he decided to retire from the game of basketball.

In his time away from the court, the basketball player tried his hand at baseball, joining the Chicago White Sox in 1994. After taking a swing at baseball, Jordan surprised fans once again when he returned to the Bulls in 1995, simply and famously stating in a press release at the time, "I'm back."

On Father's Day 1996, Jordan brought the Bulls to another NBA championship, his fourth. Afterward, the athlete dedicated the win to his late dad, breaking down on the floor in an emotional moment in the locker room.

"I know he's watching," Jordan said at the time. "This one's for daddy."

The final episodes of The Last Dance air Sunday, May 17, at 9 and 10 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN2.