Michael Jordan’s decision to donate $2 million dollars to charitable organizations that deal with issues related to violence against minorities and problems encountered by police officers marks a radical departure for the public figure. Although he has become more outspoken in recent months and years – highlighted by strong feelings related to disgraced former NBA owner, Donald Sterling and the anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina – his sentiments about violence against African American men and the deadly retribution against police officers are some of the strongest he has ever released to the public.
“Although I know these contributions alone are not enough to solve the problem, I hope the resources will help both organizations make a positive difference,” Jordan wrote.
Perhaps most telling about Jordan’s statements was how he chose to start them, writing, “As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers. I grieve with the families who have lost loved ones, as I know their pain all too well.”
Not only does it personalize a donation from someone with a billion-dollar fortune, but it also marks the anniversary of his father’s passing which occurred 23 years ago on July 23, 1993.
Most of what people remember about James Jordan is intertwined with the adulation and celebration surrounding his son’s NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.
Longtime NBA photographer, Andy Bernstein, called the photo of Jordan and his father cradling the Larry O’Brien trophy one of his favorite images he has ever shot in his career.
“It’s a very iconic moment and photo that will live for a long time,” Bernstein said. “It’s Michael’s first of six championships, and of course it has his dad in the picture. I know it’s a picture that he really treasures because someone from his office called me and asked me if he could have a print to hang in his office.”
James Jordan disappeared in the early morning hours of July 23, 1993, while returning to Charlotte from the funeral of a Wilmington friend, Willie Kemp, who had been a work colleague at the General Electric plant in Wilmington.
Following the funeral, Jordan visited the Kemp’s home in Atkinson, about 30 miles away.
Police believe that Kemp’s widow, Azella, was one of the last people to see James Jordan alive.
“All I told him was that (Jordan) was at the funeral and came out to the house later that evening,” she said. “Then he left and said he was on his way back home. We talked about children, life. He said he would keep in touch. I never thought anything like that [would happen]. He’s just down-to-earth James Jordan. We talked of old times. There was no hint of any problems.”
According to The Los Angeles Times, the family did not file a missing person’s report and police said that the family did not seem concerned about his absence. Family members apparently did not realize that he was missing, since he traveled extensively on business.
On August 3, a badly decomposed body was found by Hal Locklear, a construction worker from Laurinburg, N.C., among the branches of a tree in Gum Swamp – about 120 miles southeast of Charlotte
“(The body) was just something I walked upon,” Locklear said. “I was walking the banks for 30 minutes before I found anything… It’s dense right there. You couldn’t see it from the bridge. It probably would have taken a fisherman to find it. There is a swimming hole up the road from where I found it.”
Without the ability to make a visual match, officials were forced to rely on dental records which had the potential to take weeks to determine if the body found was was that of James Jordan.
Despite being unsure of the victim’s identity, the body was cremated three days later.
“This was the first time that we didn’t know who we had within a few days or so,” Marlboro (S.C.) Coroner Tim Brown told the Associated Press. “We were left with nobody missing in North Carolina and nobody missing in South Carolina… It was not done lightly. I hope the family understands why we did what we had to do.”
Police recovered Jordan’s red Lexus 400 on August 5 in a wooded area near Fayetteville, N.C. – about 60 miles southwest of where the body had been found. It had been stripped of its tires and stereo speakers, the front windshield and back window had been broken and the personalized license plate which read, “UNC0023,” had been taken.
On the same day that Gary Rodel Farrior was arrested on charges for helping strip Jordan’s $46,000 car of tires and stereo equipment, the body found in South Carolina was confirmed to be that of James Jordan based on dental evidence.
Despite being caught with the vehicle, Cumberland County Sheriff Morris Bedsole stated that he did not believe Farrior was involved in the slaying.
Thomas Lusby, an FBI assistant special agent in North Carolina, said the agency was looking at James Jordan’s death as a possible kidnaping because “he was last seen in North Carolina and his vehicle was recovered (there)… and the body was recovered in South Carolina. This gives us a reasonable presumption he was taken against his will and abducted.”
After two days of intensive investigation, authorities from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s quickly latched onto Daniel Andre Green and Larry Martin Demery as potential suspects and arrested them soon after.
Both Green and Demery had violent pasts. Green assaulted his junior high school principal and smashed an ax so hard into a man’s head that the victim spent several weeks in a coma. Emery was arrested for an armed robbery with a cinder block and was scheduled to go on trial the day after officials found James Jordan’s body.
During a 22-minute hearing before Robeson County District Court Judge Gary Locklear, the alleged killers only indicated that they wanted court-appointed attorneys.
However, when NBC Nightly News asked Green if he had anything to say to Michael Jordan, who remained quiet since news of his father’s murder, he commented, “I have nothing to say. But I didn’t kill him.”
According to officials, James Jordan was asleep in his car at the intersection of U.S. 74 and Interstate 95 near Lumberton when Green and Demery approached the car to rob him. The car’s doors were unlocked and a window rolled down.
While escaping in the stolen Lexus, Green reached for Jordan’s wallet and turned to Demery and said, “I believe we killed Michael Jordan’s dad.”
Their initial plan was to dispose of the body at a waste-treatment plant so it would dissolve, but the facility was locked, so they decided on the shallow creek where the body was eventually found.
Following their arrests, Demery turned state’s evidence and cooperated with the police in order to lessen his sentence in exchange for testifying that Green was the triggerman. The duo were allegedly preparing to rob a motel when the expensive car caught their eye and they changed their target.
Defense attorney Angus Thompson told the jury that Demery was actually the man who killed Jordan and that Green only helped dispose of the body as a favor to his friend.
However, damning evidence included a video of Green dancing and rapping while wearing Jordan’s jewelry – a watch and two NBA rings given to him by his son.
A jury convicted Green after 4 1/2 hours over two days before returning guilty verdicts on all charges – including robbery and conspiracy.
While both Demery and Green faced the death penalty, each were given life sentences for their roles in Jordan’s slayings.
Michael Jordan himself never appeared at their trials. A brother took the witness stand, but only long enough to identify some of his father’s belongings.
In April of this year, attorneys for Daniel Green, Scott Holmes, an N.C. Central University law professor, and Ian Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, stated that they had new evidence of misleading testimony and misconduct by the prosecutor.
Major filings included that trial’s former jury forewoman, Paula Locklear, admitting she did her own investigation of Jordan’s murder, which violated a judge’s order. Additionally, Jennifer Elwell, a veteran serologist with the State Bureau of Investigation, says she was ordered by a supervisor to destroy the only known sample of Jordan’s blood shortly after the trial.
Retired SBI agent Tony Underwood of Charlotte, who helped find Green and Demery, told the Charlotte Observer that he remains “100 percent” convinced of Green’s guilt.
- Featured/Main Image: Yard Barker