‘Last Dance’ documentary: Michael Jordan talks about his discomfort with drug culture of the NBA in the 1980s

Michael Jordan was 21 years old when he got drafted No. 3 overall by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. He was a relatively small-town kid, having grown up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and stayed near home for college. There was no social media — meaning not only were young people more sheltered by nature, but also high-profile people could get away with doing things that today would land them in a PR storm. 

On Sunday night, as part of the launch of ESPN’s 10-part documentary “The Last Dance,” Jordan detailed how his sheltered world collided with the hard-partying world of the NBA  in the 1980s. 

“I had one event, preseason, I think we were in Peoria,” Jordan recalled. “It was in a hotel, so I’m trying to find my teammates. So I start knocking on doors. I get to this one door, and I knock on the door, and I can hear someone says, ‘shh, someone’s outside.’ And then you hear this deep voice, someone says, ‘who is it?’ I said ‘MJ.’ 

“… So they open up the door. I walk in, and practically the whole team was in there. And it was like, things I’ve never seen in my life as a young kid. You got your lines [of cocaine] over here, you got your weed smokers over here, you got your women over here. So the first thing I said, ‘Look man, I’m out.’ Because all I could think about was if they come and raid this place, right about now, I’m just as guilty as everybody else that’s in this room. And from that point on, I was more or less on my own.”

Another contributor to the documentary noted Jordan’s unassuming, “regular” townhouse, in which Jordan says he was usually “just hanging out, playing cards, watching movies.”

“I wasn’t going to the clubs, I don’t smoke, I don’t do [cocaine] lines, I didn’t drink at the time,” Jordan said. “I was looking to just get some rest, get up and go play.”

There’s obviously a lesson to be learned here for young athletes with the world, seemingly, at their fingertips. For the first time in many of their lives, they have a lot of money and fame and endless opportunities to take advantage of both. It’s not to suggest young athletes can’t, you know, be young and have fun and enjoy the opportunities their talent has afforded them, but put the reason for those opportunities first. 

“Whatever somebody else might’ve been doing off the court, whether it was partying or whatever, that wasn’t part of what he was doing,” Jordan’s former Bulls teammate Rod Higgins said. “Orange juice and 7-Up, that was his go-to [drink].”

Again, Jordan, even as a youngster, put basketball first on his priority list, and he kept it there throughout his Hall of Fame career, even as we know he became a guy who, shall we say, liked to gamble and play golf and enjoy a cocktail here or there. Nothing ever compromised the basketball — not just because he was an otherworldly talent, but because his worth ethic, competitiveness and drive to be the best never changed with success.

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