Jordan Rides The Bus Doc fo the Week

Jordan Rides The Bus

In the autumn of 1993, Michael Jordan suddenly decided to take a break from basketball to try his hand at baseball. Why did one of the greatest players in the history of one sport opt for another where he was little more than a minor league journeyman? This fascinating documentary looks for answers. BT Sport 2, Tues, July 31st 14.00

Michael Jordan is synonymous with basketball. He remains the most famous player in the history of the sport. In the early 1990s, he was at the height of his powers after leading the USA ‘Dream Team’ to Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992 before completing a remarkable hat-trick of NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls the following year. He was an advertiser’s dream with a long list of lucrative endorsements to prove it. His face was everywhere, but he chose to walk away. Why?

Much has been said and written about Jordan’s sudden decision to quit basketball. Unfortunately, almost none of it is true. Some have even suggested that he was actually serving a secret ban imposed by the NBA for gambling after allegedly being seen playing the slots in Atlantic City the night before a big game earlier that year.

Jordan himself later admitted that he liked a flutter every now and then, but considered it a pastime rather than a compulsion. In any case, there is no way the NBA would have axed its biggest draw – it would have been financial suicide. It had nothing to do with gambling - the answer lay elsewhere.

Searching for the truth

Directed by Ron Shelton, a former minor league baseball player with the Baltimore Orioles who also directed much-loved baseball film Bull Durham as well as Tin Cup and White Men Can’t Jump, Jordan Rides The Bus attempts to separate fact from fiction around one of the sport’s more bizarre turns of events. It suggests a far more personal reason for what happened and maintains that Jordan’s motives have been continually misinterpreted in the press ever since. It also goes a long way towards dispelling the notion that he was a failure as a baseball player as so many liked to believe, thereby hastening his return to basketball after a two-season hiatus.

We get a sympathetic - some would argue much too sympathetic - take on the great man and his sojourn in the lower reaches of professional baseball. It puts the murder of his father at a highway rest area during an attempted car-jacking in North Carolina in the summer of 1993 as the root cause of his decision to change sports.

Jordan had been very close to his father and, Shelton believes, he was fulfilling his late father’s wish during his formative years that his son might one day become a professional baseball player. Jordan was deeply affected by his father’s passing and embarked on a very personal journey to honour his memory. It was not an exercise in vanity, as some critics claimed at the time, rather it was an expression of grief and tribute.

The tragedy of his father’s death, Shelton claims in the piece, is further compounded by the fact that Jordan is unable to make this journey away from the media spotlight. Instead they derided his decision and revelled in any mistakes he made along the way, with footage of dropped catches and mis-fields featuring regularly on news feeds and sports blooper programmes. Given his achievements in basketball, he deserved better. He also showed significant promise as a baseball player and, Shelton believes, could have achieved far more than he did had he stuck with the sport a little longer.

White Sox

Jordan joined the Chicago White Sox in early 1994 and was assigned to the Double-A Birmingham Barons. The media laughed, but his new teammates embraced him as he trained hard every day, took the team bus to away games, played cards with the guys and fully committed himself to the often-hard life of a journeyman baseball player. He later played for the Scotsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.

Revealing his own fascination with the episode, Shelton explains: “At a personal level, I've always felt that this chapter in Jordan's life was misunderstood. Instead of being an exercise of his ego, it was quite the opposite. The press and public never allowed him to have that moment, that year away to pursue his own dream. Also, as a former professional baseball player who laboured for several years, grinding up the ladder one bloody notch at a time, I have a unique appreciation for how difficult this world is. The bus rides, the lack of days off, the daily routine of it all can be brutal. Pitchers are wild, lights are bad, and injuries are a daily occurrence. There's nothing like this in sports history - the greatest player of all time in one sport submits himself to the gauntlet that mere mortal athletes have to go through daily.”

Jordan re-joined the Chicago Bulls in time for the 1995-96 season and, despite many believing that he was way past his best at 32, proved a key figure as they secured the best regular-season record in NBA history at the start of another championship triple. Very soon that sojourn into baseball became an almost unnoticed sidebar in the career of one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Well worth a watch.

Images: Getty

There are plenty of great documentaries to watch out for on the eir sport pack every week. From football to golf, GAA, rugby, athletics and beyond, we’ve got something for everyone. Watch out next week for another fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the sporting world or go to for more sports news and stories or to find out more about how we're setting sport free.

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