Michael Jordan Skipped White House Visit to Play Golf With Man Later Convicted For Money Laundering, 'The Last Dance' Reveals

Long before visiting the White House became a thorny political issue for championship-winning teams, Michael Jordan skipped team receptions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to play golf.

After the Chicago Bulls won their first NBA title in 1991, the team was invited to the White House by then-President George H.W. Bush. However, when the Bulls attended the reception at the beginning of October, Jordan did not travel to Washington, D.C. and his absence was put down to a family vacation that had long been scheduled.

The real reason behind Jordan's no-show, however, is revealed in ESPN's "The Last Dance" documentary. The 10-part series, which premieres on ESPN and ABC at 9 p.m. ET this Sunday, chronicles the final season of Jordan's career with the Bulls, which culminates with the team winning a sixth NBA title in the summer of 1998.

The documentary reveals that instead of being on vacation with his family, Jordan was instead playing golf with James "Slim" Bouler.

In October 1991, the federal government seized a $57,000 check from Jordan to Bouler, which both claimed was a loan for a golf-driving range. When the latter was charged with money-laundering and drug charges Jordan was called to testify 12 months later and told a Federal court the check covered gambling losses from a weekend of golf and poker he had spent with Bouler at a resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

"For what I lost on gambling and golf and later in poker when he loaned me some money," Jordan told James Wyatt, the defense attorney, when asked what the sum was for, as per The New York Times.

"I didn't have any money."

When asked by U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney why he had originally reported the money as a loan, Jordan acknowledged he was trying to avoid damaging his reputation.

"It was not represented as a loan at all," he said. "It was my immediate reaction to the media after a game to save embarrassment and pain, and the connection to gambling."

Charged with money laundering and conspiracy to distribute over 11 pounds of cocaine, Bouler was found guilty of the former but acquitted of the latter charge.

Jordan's relationship with gambling became well publicized during the mid-1990s when Richard Esquinas, the former general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena, claimed the Bulls star had lost $1.2 million from gambling on golf.

In his book Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction . . . My Cry For Help!, Esquinas stated Jordan and him had lost $1.25 million to him during a golf match at Aviara Golf Course in San Diego County in September 1991, which was subsequently reduced to just over $900,000 the following June when the duo met for a three-day golfing spree.

"I'm actually playing golf with people all the time now and if they want to gamble, we gamble," Jordan said of Esquinas in The Last Dance.

"The characters of those individuals [...] I find out later what kind of people I was playing with.

"I learned that lesson. But the act of gambling? I didn't do anything wrong."

At the time of the Bulls' visit to the White House, rumors over the real reason behind Jordan's absence abounded. The Chicago Tribune quoted then-Bulls head coach Phil Jackson as saying the no-show ''was a personal decision''. The report acknowledged speculations Jordan was indeed playing golf and even that he may have been persuaded not to attend by Reverend Jesse Jackson, with whom he had appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live.

Meanwhile, former Bulls guard Craig Hodges attributed Jordan's decision to his dislike for President Bush.

"You know, MJ is not publicly political but he can handle his affairs where he can make a political statement," Hodges, who won the 1991 and 1992 NBA titles alongside Jordan, told Respect magazine in 2017.

"When he didn't come to the White House, it was a statement. But once again, there was no push back from any of his sponsors or any of that because he is who he is and he is the golden goose for a lot of marketers and endorsement companies."

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan in action during the 1997 NBA regular season. Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty