Jordan's nightmare may be coming true

March 24, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

In a 1988 interview with Gentlemen's Quarterly, Chicago Bulls hTC superstar Michael Jordan said he had experienced nightmares of self-destruction.

Recalling his dreams, Jordan said: "It's always something I've done. I have robbed a bank. Or I have done cocaine. I have succumbed to the pressure of drugs. . . . They're nightmares of something terrible happening to me that would destroy a lot of people's dreams or conceptions of me -- that's the biggest nightmare I live every day."

But Jordan's nightmares have become a reality.

America's most recognizable athlete has not robbed a bank or become addicted to drugs or alcohol. But the image he has cultivated as a squeaky-clean role model, which earns him an estimated $16 million in endorsements and public appearances, has been tarnished by revelations that sent shock waves through the NBA's corporate office and Madison Avenue's ad agencies.

Last week, the tabloids targeted Jordan for writing $107,000 i checks to known North Carolina gamblers and drug dealers. The latest headlines resulted from a cashier's check for $77,000 drawn on ProServ Inc., of Alexandria, Va., which represents Jordan, that was found among the records of bondsman Eddie Dow, who was shot to death last month.

Uncharacteristically, the game's most explosive scorer turne defensive. Jordan tried to separate himself from any rumors that he had gambled on sporting events, proclaiming, "I'm no Pete Rose," a reference to the former baseball star who was banned by baseball for betting on his team.

He acknowledged, however, that he lost sizable sums betting on golf matches and in high-stakes poker games with people whose names appeared regularly on police blotters. His friends included a cocaine dealer and money launderer named James "Slim" Bouler, who borrowed $57,000 from Jordan last year to invest in a golf driving range.

"I love to bet," Jordan said. "That's part of everybody's competitive attitude." But it was his choice of companions that has the NBA concerned enough to mount its own in-house

investigation.

Questioned by reporters, Jordan said he "has a right to be associated with whomever I choose."

This rigid stand seems a trifle naive for the country's most recognizable athlete, whose image is being used to sell $150 sneakers, sporting goods, soda pop, hamburgers, breakfast cereal and Mickey Mouse.

An in-depth study of Jordan's selling power is documented in Jim Naughton's book, "Taking To The Air." Before the recent gambling revelations, he could do no wrong in the eyes of corporate America, but that could all change, as it did for the multi-flawed Mike Tyson, Rose and the Mets' Dwight Gooden.

As Naughton noted, "The Michael Jordan who inhabits the world is a projection of the national imagination, an adman's fiction in the flesh."

Said Robert Sgarlata, whose Cleo agency represents Walt Disney, which has paired Jordan with its cartoon characters: "We know Disney will never allow Mickey Mouse to have marital problems. Donald Duck is never going to beat Daisy. Yogi Bear is probably not going to develop drug problems. You worry about human beings. But with Michael, it is different. Michael is such a wholesome kid."

But that image of Jordan is quickly dissipating. His Bulls teammates accused team management of operating a double standard in making Jordan conform with team rules. And he was viewed as being greedy for refusing to have his likeness used in conjunction with Olympic Games merchandising.

Those, however, were petty problems of perception compared to the reports of gambling and unsavory friendships that the NBA ** must seriously explore or be accused of pandering to a superstar.

The NBA does not prohibit its players from wagering on sporting events save for NBA games, but, with its tough stand against drugs, it cannot wink at Jordan's association with a cocaine dealer.

No matter what the league's inquiry uncovers, the other-worldly Jordan is quickly coming down to earth, and his myriad sponsors may opt for damage control rather than awaiting the NBA's results.

*

Winning isn't everything: The lottery-bound Orlando Magic recently signed head coach Matt Guokas for three more years at a reported $400,000 per annum. They also gave a new multi-year pact to general manager Pat Williams, but Williams will have new team owner Dick DeVos' son-in-law, Bob Vander Weide, looking over his shoulder as vice president of basketball operations. Weide has no basketball experience.

DeVos gave Guokas the benefit of the doubt for the Magic'downward spiral because of injuries to stars Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson. Oddly, Guokas is the only survivor of the original expansion coaches -- Ron Rothstein of the Miami Heat, Dick Harter of the Charlotte Hornets and Bill Musselman of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

*

Newspeak: Explaining why his scoring and rebounding averages have dropped appreciably since the midseason point, Denver Nuggets rookie center Dikembe Mutombo said: "It seems like I was close to hitting the wall, but I walked to the wall and walked through it. Now I'm on the other side of the wall, so I can't hit it anymore."

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