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Jordan Hit on Gambling : Golf bets: San Diego man says the Bulls' star played him for four years, once owed him $1.252 million.

June 03, 1993|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The two met at a 1989 exhibition basketball game in San Diego. A golf game was arranged for the next day, which only served as a betting prelude for four years' worth of wagering between the Esquinas and Jordan.

Esquinas said he and Jordan eventually kept running tabs on their wins and losses. "We were always very flexible in payments," he said.

The only time Esquinas was unable to pay a debt to Jordan was after losing $98,000 to the Bulls' star during a 1991 match at a Pinehurst, N.C. In September of that same year, Esquinas said he offered to play Jordan double or nothing and produced two checks, each for $98,000 and each made out to Jordan should he win the match.

Jordan accepted. Then, during approximately a 10-day period, Esquinas said he went from owing Jordan $98,000, to winning the $1.252 million.

At one point, Esquinas said he feared he might be physically harmed.

"I feared that I'd be perceived as a threat to Jordan, and the things that come with those fears," he said.

Shortly after Esquinas said he won the million dollar-plus wager, Jordan and Esquinas spoke on the phone, according to the San Diego man. During the conversation, Esquinas said Jordan jokingly remarked, "Rich, I just might as well shoot you as to give you a check for $1.2 million."

"I played it off," Esquinas said Wednesday. "But he was definitely drawing the line that he wasn't going to pay the full amount. What he was saying was, 'I'm not paying the full amount.' And right there, I knew I had trouble collecting."

Esquinas said that he didn't write the book, which will be distributed starting next week, to punish Jordan for allegedly failing to pay the $1.252-million debt in full. If anything, said Esquinas, he pleaded with Jordan not to double the original $626,000 wager at Aviara.

Wrote Esquinas in his book: "Once again, (Jordan) went into a long story about his wealth. He could handle $1.2 million, he said, should he happen to lose.

" 'Let's play for it,' he said. 'E-Man, I can't believe you won't give me this game.'

"I was trying to get him to comprehend the magnitude of losing at such a level, to defer this insistence that we engage once again. Not only did he want to continue this chase, he was demanding it.

" 'I do not want this game,' I said, 'but I must be honest with you. You lose and you pay. That's the only way I'll give you a shot. And, if I beat you, that's it. No more of this double or nothing . . . ' "

Esquinas said he hasn't spoken in person with Jordan since the two exchanged handshakes at a Clippers-Bulls game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Esquinas also said he never told Jordan of his decision to write the tell-all book. "My ultimate resolution, my hope, is that Michael seeks out some help, that he sees this as a positive and we can be friends," Esquinas said. "Given the ramifications of everything around it, that's probably a stretch."

According to Esquinas, Jordan's penchant for golf gambling was no secret. When the Dream Team assembled in La Jolla for training camp in the summer of 1992, Jordan and Esquinas would play and wager in full view of Jordan's Olympic basketball teammates.

"But everybody knew not to come near the question of how much (was being bet)," Esquinas said.

In fact, said Esquinas, the last round of golf he and Jordan played together was at the La Jolla Country Club during the Olympic training camp. It was during that June 25 round that Jordan allegedly whittled the overall debt total to $902,000.

Esquinas, who said that both he and Jordan are about 5-7 handicappers and that they had never given strokes to each other, said that he hasn't played golf for money in more than six months. But he hasn't entirely given up gambling, either. He said he placed a bet on this year's Super Bowl.

"What we were chasing was not so much money . . . we were chasing competition," Esquinas said. "It was like putting kerosene on a fire."

Times staff writer Mark Heisler contributed to this story.

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