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How Michael Jordan-signed checks ended up in the briefcase of a murdered bail bondsman

Michael Jordan's addiction to competition gave him unwitting links to the criminal underworld.
Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

It’s not a secret that Michael Jordan is addicted to competition. This vice powered him to six NBA Championships and the title of the Greatest of all Time. It’s also this hunger for competition that made him forge connections with the criminal underworld. Through golf, his other favorite sport, Jordan became linked to several shady figures.

Underworld connections

The year was 1991, Jordan was fresh off his first NBA Championship and was looking to get basketball off his mind for a bit. Golf was his preferred activity to free his mind even during the season. In David Halberstam’s book “Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made,” he noted how Jordan went on a five-day golfing spree right after snagging his first NBA title. Of course, Jordan didn’t play golf just for show. Money had to be put on the table before he started swinging.

The games started at 8 a.m. Jordan and his crew would play as many as 27 holes a day. Bets ranged from $100 to as much as $1,000 a hole. Part of Jordan’s small circle was a guy named James “Slim” Bouler. Even before he met the Bulls guard, Bouler already had amassed a dark personal history. He was a convicted criminal for selling cocaine. He also had two probation violations for carrying semiautomatic weapons.

That summer of 1991 wasn’t the first time Bouler played and betted against Jordan. As early as 1986, he had been putting money on the table whenever Jordan visited his driving range in Monroe, North Carolina. In 1993, while behind bars in a federal prison in Texas, Bouler confessed that he carried as much as $30,000 with him whenever Jordan came to town.

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All I’ll tell you is: When you come to play, bring a lunch because you’re not going to no picnic,” he said.

Jordan-signed checks

A briefcase-carrying man named Eddie Dow was tasked to hold on to Bouler’s gambling profits. He was a local bail bondsman whose trade involved putting up money to free accused criminals.

After the five-day golf-betting spree in the summer of 1991, Jordan owed $57,000 to Bouler and $108,000 to Eddie Dow, who, as the bail bondsman, was tasked to hold on to Bouler’s money.

Fast forward to February 19, 1992, while in the carport of his home in the woods of North Carolina, Dow was gunned down by 23-year-old George Cale Buckner. He was a thief who had worked for Dow as a weekend bouncer at Recess, the bondman’s juice bar. Together with three accomplices, Buckner shot Dow twice with a high-powered rifle that immediately ended his life.

They grabbed Dow’s briefcase, raced off in his car, and took the cash that ran up to $20,000. They ditched the documents and threw out the briefcase in the North Carolina woods. Later, the thrashed suitcase was found by the authorities. 

Among the plethora of documents were three two checks, totaling $108,000, written and signed by Michael Jordan. Reports slightly contradict as Halberstam said two checks were found while a Chicago Tribune article a little over a month after the incident said three checks were recovered. Nevertheless, both accounts concurred that the checks amounted to $108,000 and were signed by Jordan.

There are no reports which confirm if Slim was connected to the murder. The main interest seems to have been the money stash that Dow is known to had been lugging around in his briefcase.

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