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Unanswered Questions in the Tragic Fate of Michael Jordan’s Father

 Copyright 2001 NBAE. Photo by Mike Powelll/Allsport. Getty Images
Copyright 2001 NBAE. Photo by Mike Powelll/Allsport. Getty Images

Who really killed Michael Jordan’s father, James R. Jordan Sr.? The question was answered decades ago when two young men were convicted… but is there more to the story?

ESPN documentary The Last Dance focuses partly on Michael Jordan’s career. The production has earned acclaim, with Esquire describing it as “The sports documentary of sports documentaries.” But it couldn’t help but remind people of what happened that terrible night in 1993.

One talking point in particular was a home made rap video, filmed after the murder. Teenager Daniel Green shot the tape, and it was noticeable for a couple of reasons. Green displayed an NBA (National Basketball Association) champions’ watch onscreen, along with an All-Star ring from 1986. Both belonged to Jordan Sr. Combined with evidence from the scene of the crime, it was proof positive for many that Green was involved in the slaying. However, was it a cut and dried case…?

Michael Jordan
His Airness. Photo by Steve Lipofsky at CC by 3.0

The accepted version of events following the investigation are these. Michael Jordan’s father was driving back home from Wilmington, NC, where he’d attended a funeral and met with friends. An hour or so into the long drive to Charlotte, he stopped at a Quality Inn to take a nap in the parking lot. It was then that Green (18) and friend Larry Demery (17) approached with a view to stealing the red Lexus SC400 and robbing Jordan, who they don’t seem to have recognized.

According to Demery, the pair held Jordan at gunpoint. This was instigated by Green, who reportedly woke Jordan. They then drove to a bridge near Gum Swamp in McColl town, South Carolina. The intention was simply to tie up the victim before making off with the Lexus. However, Green proceeded to shoot Jordan once in the right side of his chest. Throwing the body off the bridge, Demery and Green left the car in a forest area, some 60 miles away from the scene.

The body was recovered from the swamp 11 days later. “Finally, 22 days after he went missing, the body was identified with dental records and James Jordan was officially declared dead” All That’s Interesting writes. On a further tragic note it adds: “The body had already been cremated as a John Doe before it was able to be identified.”

A Chicago Sun Times piece from 1993 mentions Captain Art Binder of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Dpt. He said “Jordan was a ‘random victim,’ killed in a ‘spur of the moment’ crime that may have started as a car theft and escalated to murder.” Calls made from Jordan’s cell phone pointed to Demery and Green. Additional evidence such as the rap video sealed the pair’s fate.

It was an exceptionally sad end to the life of a proud father. “He’s a voice of reason that always drove and challenged me” said Michael Jordan, quoted from The Last Dance. “That’s the type of father I had”. Jordan Sr. was born in the town of Wallace, NC in 1936. He resided in North Carolina most of his days, with a brief spell training as a mechanic in Brooklyn.

It was there he and wife Deloris welcomed baby Michael into the world. Jordan Sr. flew in the air force and worked at a mill before taking his place in the history books as Michael’s “greatest cheerleader” (All That’s Interesting). Sport was in James’s blood. He played baseball on a semi-professional level. Such was the impact of his death, Michael temporarily took up the sport in his honor.

Demery and Green went down for the first degree murder of Michael Jordan’s father in 1996, the former’s sentence reduced to 40 years due to his co-operation with police. Yet recently the latter has been speaking out from behind bars. As Demery was the only one to testify – being told by authorities that Green had sold him out – Green’s side of the story never emerged. His version casts Demery as the killer, with Green nowhere near the Quality Inn at the time. As Demery was mixed up with the local drugs trade, one theory goes that Johnson was accidentally killed during some nefarious business. He then asked Green to help him dump Jordan’s body.

Daniel Green
Daniel Green at Lumberton Correctional Institution on May 18, 2018. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Personal connections to the investigation have generated intrigue. Trafficker Hubert Larry Deese was Demery’s employer, according to Green. Deese’s father Sheriff Hubert Stone (Robeson County) just so happened to be part of the law enforcement team investigating the case. Detective Mark Locklear, a pal of Deese, also looked into matters.

Green’s lawyers pursued a retrial which was ultimately refused. The Robesonian reported in 2017: “Green’s lawyers contend Stone, who is dead, misled federal investigators into concluding the death was the result of a kidnapping and robbery rather than a drug deal gone bad. The defense lawyers say a phone call that was made to Deese with Jordan’s phone after the slaying suggests the crime was connected to drug trafficking.” Deese, who has since rehabilitated, strongly denied the claims through his legal team.

Johnson’s shirt also raised questions. It bore no corresponding bullet hole or gunpowder traces, though a hole was seen in the fabric later on. Why later on? Well, the garment had been on a strange journey whereby a funeral company known to the police “buried it because they claimed it had an overpowering stench” writes All That’s Interesting. The shirt was apparently taken out of the ground with the hole in place.

These wild details make for fascinating reading. Authorities on the other hand aren’t convinced. The state points to “Green’s criminal history before the James Jordan murder — including assault with a deadly weapon and two other armed robberies with Demery shortly before Jordan’s death” that for them “paint a different picture of Green than what he’s put forth in recent years.”

Related Article: Wayne Gretzky wasn’t Impressed with how Michael Jordan Tipped in Las Vegas

With Demery’s parole now up for discussion, commentators are keeping a watchful eye. The case is closed but the main participants have their own stories to tell. Justice was found over the death of Michael Jordan’s beloved father James. Was it the right kind of justice? The judge brought a hammer down but ultimately only time will tell…