Though the state quickly convicted two suspects in James Jordan’s 1993 death, lingering evidence has many asking how Michael Jordan’s dad really died.
On June 20, 1993, James Jordan and his son, Michael, celebrated the latter’s NBA Finals victory, his third in as many years. Already a basketball legend, Michael Jordan was at the height of his career and his father was there with him every step of the way, as he had been for his son’s whole life.
But just five weeks later, Michael Jordan’s father was murdered.
On July 23, 1993, nine days shy of his 57th birthday, James R. Jordan was shot to death near Lumberton, North Carolina before being dumped into a South Carolina swamp. The body was found 11 days later, identified another 10 days after that, and the tragedy soon left Michael Jordan and his career in shambles.
“I think about him every day. I’m pretty sure I always will. Every day of my life.” — Michael Jordan, March 1996
Michael Jordan had called his father his “best friend”, or simply “Pops.” And now he was gone. When the NBA superstar announced his shocking retirement from the sport a few months later and then launched a baseball career to honor his father’s wishes, the full effects of James Jordan’s death became ever more clear.
Meanwhile, the case was quickly resolved as two teenage suspects — Daniel Green and Larry Demery — were almost immediately apprehended and ultimately convicted in what was simply believed to have been a robbery gone wrong. But although the case was closed and Michael Jordan’s NBA career was over, the story didn’t end there.
A year and and a half after the murder of James Jordan, his son was back in the NBA. But it would be another two decades before revelations about the murder case would emerge to complicate the story.
In recent years, the “robbery gone wrong” narrative is now under the microscope and new legal developments are in the works. Green has come forward with claims that he’s innocent and that the state mishandled the case. Meanwhile, further reporting from investigative journalists and ESPN’s docuseries The Last Dance have put a brighter spotlight on the story than perhaps ever before.
But exactly how did Michael Jordan’s dad die and what facts didn’t come out at the time? The story of James Jordan’s murder is more complicated than anyone realized back in the summer of 1993.
The Life Of James R. Jordan, Father Of A Legend
Born in Wallace, North Carolina on July 31, 1936, James Raymond Jordan Sr. spent his early life in that small town of just about 1,000 people. He and his hometown sweetheart, Deloris Peoples, met at Charity High School and remained together for three years before his graduation.
Afterward, Jordan joined the Air Force and was sent to San Antonio before being shipped to Virginia in 1956. He and Peoples soon married and had three children as Jordan left the Air Force and began working at a mill back in Wallace.
In 1963, Jordan and his wife went to Brooklyn so that he could receive training as a mechanic. It was there, on February 17, that Michael Jordan was born. Within 18 months, the family moved back to North Carolina to raise their children.
From an early age, James Jordan always supported Michael’s passion for basketball, though James’ first love was baseball, which he’d once played semi-professionally. But once Michael settled on basketball, James jumped in with both feet and his son flourished. From Michael’s NCAA career at the University of North Carolina to his professional years with the Chicago Bulls starting in 1984, James Jordan traveled the country again and again to follow his son’s career and be his greatest cheerleader.
By the early 1990s, Michael Jordan was riding an unparalleled wave of basketball success as he won championship after championship and graced every television screen in America. But after the murder of Michael Jordan’s father in the summer of 1993, the superstar walked away from the game at his zenith.
“The most positive thing I can take from my father not being here with me today is that he saw my last basketball game. And that means a lot.” — Michael Jordan, Oct. 16, 1993
James Jordan’s life may have ended on July 23, 1993, but the story remains alive and mysterious. The answer to how Michael Jordan’s dad died is much more complicated than anyone could have first imagined.
How Did Michael Jordan’s Dad Die?
James Jordan spent July 22, 1993 at the funeral of an ex-colleague in Wilmington, North Carolina. He visited with friends late into the night and hit the road back home to Charlotte after midnight. Jordan had a three-and-a-half-hour drive to make and a flight to Chicago scheduled the following day.
Tired from being on the road so late, he pulled his Lexus over to rest about an hour into his drive. He stopped in the parking lot of a Quality Inn at the intersection of U.S. 74 and I-95 south of Lumberton, North Carolina (though some say his car was moved to the parking lot from the side of the road later).
“It’s been a very tough time for me to deal with it, and I don’t really have any feelings against them yet…it hasn’t really sunk in yet.” — Michael Jordan, 1993
Eleven days later, his body was found decomposing, dead by gunshot, in Gum Swamp in McColl, South Carolina. Unable to be identified at first, the body provided no initial answers to the Jordan family who had no idea where James was. Finally, 22 days after he went missing, the body was identified with dental records and James Jordan was officially declared dead. The body had already been cremated as a John Doe before it was able to be identified.
But what happened in that Quality Inn parking lot isn’t exactly clear to this day.
Conflicting Stories About Who Killed Michael Jordan’s Father
Soon after James Jordan’s murder, police tracked calls made from his car phone to friends and family of two area teenagers named Daniel Andre Green and Larry Martin Demery. Believing these two young men were the ones who made the calls, they became the prime suspects and were soon arrested.
But the story that the police got from Green and Demery may not be the complete picture, as the two quickly turned on each other and Green didn’t testify at all, leaving only Demery’s account on record. But, whether an incomplete story or not, what the prosecution gathered from the two suspects was a tale of robbery gone wrong.
According to Demery, he and Green found James Jordan asleep in his car and decided to steal it and rob him, only later realizing that he was Michael Jordan’s dad. But first, Demery said that Green woke Jordan up at gunpoint and the three drove to a bridge near Green’s home close to Gum Swap where they planned to tie him up and drive off (another account that the state offered said that they shot him first before driving off).
But when they arrived, Demery said, Green shot Jordan.
“I asked Daniel why did he do it,” said Demery. “He just said, ‘Hurry up and let’s get him moved.’”
They then dumped the body over the bridge and abandoned the car in a forest 60 miles away.
Meanwhile, the case against Green only mounted as a rap video he filmed days after Jordan’s death came to light in which he flashed the NBA championship watch and 1986 All-Star ring that Jordan was given by his son and which had been taken from the Lexus.
But because Demery’s side of the story was the sole one in evidence, and because he gave that story only after police tricked him into thinking that Green had already ratted him out (which he hadn’t), Demery’s account came under scrutiny. And in the years since, Green has flat-out claimed that Demery was not only lying, but was in fact the truly guilty party all along.
Nevertheless, Green was sentenced to life in 1996 while Demery was given a lesser sentence of 40 years due to his cooperation in naming Green as the triggerman. The case was closed, Michael Jordan was back in the NBA, and even he seemed to put the matter behind him, at least publicly.
“I don’t want to know,” he said regarding the motives of his father’s killers. “Because it probably would hurt me even more just to know their reasons…it’s going to be totally meaningless for the reasons.”
But as the case continues to unfold, the question of how did Michael Jordan’s dad die has become very meaningful for everyone from amateur sleuths to the authorities to Green, the man who may not have gotten what he deserved.
Daniel Green’s New Claims About The James Jordan Murder Case
In recent years, Daniel Green has protested his conviction, claiming that he wasn’t present during the shooting and was at most an accessory to murder after the fact. As Green made a play for a new trial in 2018, he said that Demery was responsible and that the latter’s connections to both drug dealers and the local authorities played a major role in the crime and what he believes was a miscarriage of justice.
According to Green, he and Demery had been at a cookout in Lumberton on the night of the murder and that Demery left at around 1:30 a.m. to prepare for a trip to New York on drug business the next day. Green said that Demery returned a few hours later, visibly shaken.
“I had never seen him like that before,” said Green. “I had seen him in situations where he was scared…this was just a different level.”
Green said that Demery told him he shot a man on U.S. 74 and I-95 and begged for Green’s help in cleaning up the mess. They then drove back to the intersection, where Green says he saw Jordan’s body for the first time.
He then decided to help his friend cover up the crime and dispose of the body in Gum Swamp. Green maintains to this day that he was only an accessory after the fact.
“If you’re innocent of something, it makes you want to keep fighting,” said Green in 2018. “Because you’re really fighting for reality…you’re trying to protect it. It’s almost a matter of protecting your own sanity.”
“My father used to say that it’s never too late to do anything you wanted to do. And he said you never know what you can accomplish until you try.” — Michael Jordan, 1994
Ultimately, however, Demery declined to comment on any of Green’s new claims and the latter’s request for a new hearing was denied. The state maintains that there was enough evidence to convict and that 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 — paint a different picture of Green than what he’s put forth in recent years.
Legally, the case officially remains about as closed as it was in 1996, but lingering questions remain.
For one, Green said that Demery worked for Hubert Larry Deese, a known drug trafficker who was later imprisoned for narcotics crimes in 1994 — and was the son of Robeson County Sheriff Hubert Stone, who worked the James Jordan murder case along with Deese’s friend, detective Mark Locklear.
The phone records show that a call was made from Jordan’s car to Deese just hours after the murder. The theory put forth by Green’s lawyers is that Jordan was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a drug deal was about to go down. According to Green’s lawyers:
“It is more likely that Demery, Deese or someone else involved in a drug transaction encountered Jordan in the parking lot and mistook him for someone connected with the drug deal, leading to the killing of Mr. Jordan by Demery, Deese, or someone meeting them there.”
The implication from there is that Deese’s connections to local law enforcement may have helped keep him out of trouble.
Deese himself declined to comment on any of this, though his lawyer said that such a theory is completely unfounded. Deese’s lawyer even claimed that Green and Demery only called Deese because they suspected that a known drug dealer like him might be in the market to buy the car they’d just stolen.
Meanwhile, Locklear as well as the case’s original prosecutor and the state of North Carolina all maintain that Deese played no significant role in the crime. Locklear said that Green’s attorneys were “grasping for straws” in bringing up Deese.
Beyond questions associated with Deese, the biggest mysteries of the James Jordan case have to do with the physical evidence, starting with the fact that there was virtually none of it connecting the two suspects to the scene.
But the scant physical evidence that the state did offer has since come into question. First is the fact that, though the state claimed that Jordan was shot in his car, there was only the slightest bit of blood found in the car and even that finding was inconclusive. Green’s attorneys contended that if Demery told the truth and Jordan was shot in the car, blood would have been found.
Then there’s the mystery of the shirt in which James Jordan died. The autopsy concluded that Jordan was shot once on the right side of his chest and yet also found that “there is no hole in the shirt at that point.”
The shirt not only lacked the hole you’d think would be there, but it also showed no traces of gunpowder. Both of these things don’t point toward any specific alternate theory, but they do suggest that the state’s claims about where and how Jordan was shot don’t quite add up.
Stranger still is the fact that the shirt was passed from law enforcement to a company that performs funeral services, which then buried it because they claimed it had an overpowering stench. When the shirt was later dug up at that facility, it did now have the hole in the chest.
The chain of events here remains fuzzy, but Green’s attorneys said that the state was at least careless with what was evidence in a murder case, or perhaps the state had even tampered with the shirt and added a hole that wasn’t there to begin with.
But the pleas from Green’s attorneys didn’t amount to much in the end and the state has persisted with its original version of the events, leaving Green behind bars for life.
On the other hand, Demery is currently being considered for parole, while Green has to wait until October 2021 to appeal again. Perhaps more answers will come out in court, or perhaps the opportunity will never arise.
We may never know what exactly happened to James Jordan between the Quality Inn and Gum Swamp in the early morning hours of July 23, 1993.
After learning about the shocking death of Michael Jordan’s father, read about 11 famous murders too chilling to forget. Then, learn about how Aaron Hernandez went from sports star to murderer.