Heading into the Eastern Conference Finals of the 1992/93 NBA season, the Chicago Bulls were undoubtedly the team to beat.
After all, they had dominated the basketball scene in each of the two seasons previous, winning back-to-back championships. They were bidding to become the first team to three-peat since the Boston Celtics in the 1960s.
The Bulls had also made light work of their opening two encounters in this campaign’s NBA Playoffs, swatting aside the Atlanta Hawks 3-0 in the first round and then the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 in the semi-finals.
Up next in the Eastern Conference Finals stood the New York Knicks in a best-of-seven series.
And things failed to follow the script for Chicago as they lost the opening two matches of the series.
Despite being the highest point scorer in both losing efforts, NBA legend Michael Jordan found himself in the news for the wrong reasons. It related to a visit to a casino on the eve of game two with the Knicks.
What was reported
The Bulls were based in a midtown New York hotel, which was approximately 110 miles down the east coast from the casinos in Atlantic City.
They practiced the day before the fixture, with Jordan then deciding to make the casino trip.
Based on information from a hotel employee, Jordan reportedly checked into the hotel at Bally’s Grand at 17:07, before checking out again at 23:05.
Where there were discrepancies with the turn of events came in the time he headed back to New York and how much he lost in the baccarat pit playing blackjack.
Apparently he was spotted at 02:30 the following morning and that he lost $5,000 during his gambling session.
How Jordan responded off the court
Jordan did not deny the visit, citing the need to escape the environment of New York, particularly the media’s constant inquest of the opening 98-90 defeat.
Without his golf clubs, there was not the possibility of passing time with a swift 18 holes, while Jordan did not fancy eating out.
Jordan argued that by travelling via limousine, rather than driving himself, there was plenty of opportunity to relax, as he enjoyed the company of both his father and friends.
He accepted that his session was not a winning one, although his losses totalled far less than $5,000.
The bigger dispute came over when Jordan was back in bed, as he stated that he was in his room between 12:30 and 01:00.
“Let me see one person say I was there at 1 o’clock and they’d have a lawsuit,” Jordan told reporters.
“I’m just trying to get away from the city of New York and relax, instead of sitting there listening to the media hype up about the first game – our mistakes, Scottie Pippen didn’t play well, Michael Jordan didn’t play well.
“I’m just trying to get away from it, instead of staying in a room.”
Jordan added that he got eight hours sleep in preparation for final practice ahead of game two.
However, the Bulls still fell 2-0 behind in the series, despite Jordan’s 36 points in the 96-91 loss.
How Jordan responded on the court
Chicago bounced back to take the series 4-2 against New York, with Jordan especially effective when shooting 54 points in the match to square up the series.
He was even more influential in the NBA Finals against a Phoenix Suns team that included another basketball legend and keen gambler in Charles Barkley. Barkley has previously offered some blackjack advice here.
The Bulls beat the Suns 4-2, with Jordan averaging 41 points across the six matches. In doing so, he became the first player in NBA history to win three successive Finals MVP awards.
Jordan and gambling
The 1993 NBA casino episode is far from the first involving Jordan and gambling.
Only the year previous, he was part of the USA basketball team at the Barcelona Summer Olympics that were regularly spotted inside Monte Carlo casinos during their preparations.
There are other stories of Jordan partaking in all-night poker games during the same trip and much later, in 2006, winning a 120-player charity poker tournament that required a minimum $5,000 entry fee.
Then in his book When Nothing Else Matters, Michael Leahy remembers a tale at the Mohegan Sun Casino, where Jordan found himself down $500,000 at the blackjack tables, only to have a dramatic change in fortunes to leave close to $800,000 ahead.
Away from the casino tables, there are stories of Jordan betting basketball teammates over which player’s luggage will emerge from a conveyor belt first, while ample golf betting stories have also been remembered.