Orange County Register

David Stern, David Falk, the Chicago Bulls and the corporate octopus that embraces Michael Jordan will now tell us about the powers of coincidence.

They will inform us that the bullet in James Jordan's chest has nothing to do with Michael Jordan's habit of gambling when he plays golf, or with Michael Jordan's aversion to paying when he loses.

They will hint that a black man driving a Lexus through the back roads of the Carolinas, as James Jordan was doing before he was attacked, is prey to the highwayman. Especially if his son is America's richest athlete and the top crossover celebrity since DiMaggio.

As we wait for the story to seep out, we know only this:

The surest and most vicious way to hurt Michael Jordan was always to hurt James Jordan.

James was Michael, without the disrespect for gravity. He was just as bald, charming, cocky, and effortlessly glib. He was not just Michael's dad but his best friend and business partner. He appeared with Michael in a likably naughty Hanes underwear commercial.

Last spring James was in New York for the Bulls-Knicks series, visiting an Atlantic City, N.J., casino with him, entertaining the writers when Michael wouldn't talk to them anymore.

James and Deloris Jordan attended every North Carolina game Michael played. That took some planning and some super-saving and some money.

"Thank God for the General Electric credit union," James would say.

But James wasn't working for GE at the time of his death. Wasn't living in Wilmington, N.C., either.

He moved to Charlotte in 1985, after he pleaded guilty to a charge of accepting a kickback from a private contractor.

Jordan was in charge of inventory control at the GE plant in Castle Hayne, a suburb of Wilmington. In 1983 (Michael's sophomore year) he wrote a phony purchase order for 30 tons of hydraulic equipment, to be delivered by Dale Gierszewski, head of Hydratron Inc.

General Electric then paid Gierszewski $11,560 for the 30-ton cylinders. Jordan acknowledged Gierszewski's non-existent delivery of the cylinders, and the contractor paid Jordan $7,000 for his trouble.

Gierszewski pleaded guilty to embezzlement and received a suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine on March 6.

Jordan pleaded guilty 20 days later. He could have gone to jail for 10 years, for the charge of aiding and abetting in the commission of false pretenses.

Instead, he got the same sentence Gierszewski got, on the promise he would clear his throat and rummage through his memory.

There were no other indictments in the case, so James Jordan's murder probably wasn't the culmination of somebody's 10-year grudge.

Nevertheless, the Jordans didn't always hang out with the Boy Scouts.

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Michael lost $57,000 on the golf course to convicted cocaine dealer Slim Bouler, and Jordan's phone number was found on a note in the pocket of a bail bondsman, who might have dialed it had he been alive.

Jordan's chief accuser, Richard Esquinas, recently accused Jordan of mentioning point spreads on the phone. Esquinas, according to his book, could never seem to collect his golfing debts from Jordan. Esquinas can expect to have his door knocked upon any hour now.

Sure, James Jordan could have been kidnapped and murdered for reasons that had nothing to do with bet collection.

But when he left Wilmington on July 21, he was headed for Charlotte. To make that trip, you drive west on U.S. Highway 74. You do not travel through McColl, S.C., near where Jordan's body was found, or through Fayetteville, N.C., where the Lexus was found.

The authorities don't think it was a car theft gone wrong. Whoever drove the car to Fayetteville and left it had a key.

No one knows what happened between July 26, when James Jordan was last heard from, and Aug. 3, when the body ultimately identified as his was discovered. Jordan was a traveling man, a lone wolf who often went days without contacting his family. Michael was vacationing and playing golf in Carmel, Calif. He couldn't have known. Had there been a ransom procedure, Michael would have been home, waiting by the phone with Mom. Right?

America unanimously asks this question: Was James Jordan killed because Michael Jordan kept refusing to scratch his itch?

Jordan has often savored retirement. If it becomes clear to him that his father died for his sins, we can expect him to retire immediately. Facing the public has been burden enough. Facing himself will require everything he has.

And how much mirror time should be served by NBA Commissioner Stern and agent Falk, in that case? How many times have they refused to save Michael from himself?

But those answers live in winter's chill. For now, we just know that there is evidence of a son's gambling problem, and there is suspicion of a son's paying problem. The father of that son has been murdered. Coincidence, anyone?

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