In 1993 Michael Jordan was the most famous athlete on the planet.
He had won three straight championships with the Chicago Bulls and his face adorned dozens of ads for everything from Gatorade to Chevrolet to Nike. And through it all, his dad was always by his side. James Raymond Jordan Sr and his son were often photographed together at media events, or at high-stakes poker trips to Vegas. Behind the scenes, their relationship was regarded as key to Michael’s success.
But on July 23 in 1993, James Jordan disappeared while driving home from a party. His body was found two weeks later and for Michael, nothing was the same again. He retired from the NBA soon after and cited his father’s death as the reason. At his retirement press conference, he told reporters that it has “made me realise how short life is, how quickly things can end, how innocently.”
By that time two young men had been charged with James Jordan’s murder. Larry Demery (17) and Daniel Green (18) were minor felons from a rural swath of North Carolina who were arrested after using Jordan’s car phone after his disappearance. Demery admitted they’d attempted to rob Jordan as he napped in his car, only to end up shooting him. Meanwhile, Green has always maintained his innocence and claims he wasn’t even there. Both men were convicted of first-degree murder and handed life sentences.
The point is: it’s never been entirely clear what happened. Green’s innocence seems implausible given the evidence, while Demery has never given a public interview—until now.
Larry Demery recently did a phone interview for the podcast What it Was Like in which he gave a blow-by-blow description of the murder. He denies pulling the trigger, but admits to robbing Jordan and disposing of his body. Most valuably, his story illustrates how one of the most seismic events of 90s culture felt for those in the middle of it.
Hit the play button on the player for the full story and read the exclusive interview below.
“I remember the first time I met Daniel. I met him in third-grade playing frisbee. He and I became best friends. We grew up fishing and hunting. There were lots of swimming holes too. But Daniel got into a scuffle when he was 15 and went to prison and when he came out, something happened. He’d changed. But not just on his end, but for me too. Going from 15 to 17, you can go through a lot of changes during those years.
“The day he got out, we went back to my parents’ house. We were just sitting out in the yard, and he kept saying, “I got to do something, man. I gotta figure out what to do.” And I’m like, “so what do you want to do?” I think that was the moment we threw it all away.
“What he was talking about was robbery. We borrowed a pistol from his mum and used it to commit the first one. We were off to the races after that.
“On the night we crossed paths with Michael Jordan’s dad, we had already robbed a convenience store and a couple outside a motel. There are motels right by Highway 95, the interstate that runs through North Carolina. So we were hanging around outside, creeping around, waiting for people to pop out. But not much was happening and we noticed a car sitting not far from the motel, right beside the highway. Daniel actually mentioned it first. He said, “man, you know what? That’s a Lexus.” At the time I didn’t know what a Lexus was because they’d only been out for like a year or two. But we decided to go check it out.
“There in the front seat, we found a guy asleep, laying there with gold rings on his fingers and a gold watch. We actually thought the guy was a dope dealer to be in a ride like that, sitting beside the road asleep. So we just walked by a couple of times and checked it out. Then we decided to rob the guy. The plan was to drive him down the road and just put him out, then drive off with his stuff. But it didn’t work out that way.
“There was only one pistol. Daniel had it. He tried to hand it to me but I was like “no man, no.” I’m not trying to make myself sound like an innocent person or anything. I was right there and down with the program, but nobody was supposed to have gotten hurt. The man was laying there asleep. So I remember he took it, and then there was a shot. That was it. Just one shot, while the man lay there asleep. When he was hit, he just moved around a little bit, made a noise—like a moaning noise—then sat up real quick. There was a moment and he laid back again, and that was it. Just a few seconds and he stopped moving.
“I remember Daniel saying “hey, help me move him! I can’t move him by myself!” Because we had to reach out and pull him over from the driver’s side into the passenger’s side so we could get in behind the wheel. Then Daniel got in and took off. I went and got in my car and we took off down the road. Once we were away from the crime scene, we pulled off next to a cornfield to check out the car.
“Daniel started by going through the man’s pockets and taking his shoes off. I went to the trunk where I found a couple of golf bags but didn’t really notice anything unusual. But then Daniel calls out “man, I believe we got Michael Jordan’s dad here!” I was like “what are you talking about?” He held up the driver’s licence and went “look!” And I read the name James R. Jordan. Of course, everybody from North Carolina knew who Mike was, but James R didn’t really mean anything to me at the time. But as we continued going through the car, we took the man’s watch off. And the engraving on the back of it read “To dad, from Michael and Juanita.” I don’t know why, but I knew that Michael Jordan’s wife’s name was Juanita. And that’s when everything fell into place. Suddenly, I noticed one set of golf clubs in the trunk all had the Chicago Bulls sign on them, red and black.
“I was tripping out. Especially because there was a dead man, a dead body right there in the car. And I’d never been that close to a dead person. Then there was the fact that we were responsible for taking his life.
“From there, we drove down to Pea Bridge Road. It was right on the borderline of North and South Carolina. That’s where we dropped him off a bridge. I remember the tussle, the struggle of us both trying to carry him from the car. Then I remember hearing him hit the water. And that was it.
“I found out later on that he had floated down the river a little way and got hung up on a limb hanging out of the water. He was found by a local dude going fishing.
“After that, we went back to Daniel’s house. I remember laying down on the couch and I might have been there a couple of hours. When I woke up Daniel wasn’t in the trailer. I looked out the window and I could see the car, and Daniel kicking back in the seat, his foot out the window, talking on the phone. From my understanding of things, the police can pretty much pinpoint where you’re at from a single phone call. So that’s the moment right then when I knew we were done. It was over with. It was coming.
“Three weeks later the case was on the local paper front page: ‘James Jordan missing’. It was the very next day, Saturday, when they came to see me. It might sound strange, but in a sense it was a relief when they came to get me. Not that I wanted to get locked up or arrested but man, all those weeks going around not being able to talk to anybody about it, anticipating the door to be kicked in.
“Daniel was picked up first, about 6:30 that Saturday evening. And they came after me the first time around 11:00 that night.
“I saw them coming. Like I said, we lived out in the country and they had about a quarter of a mile before they could get to the house. Man, when all those police cars started turning off the highway onto the dirt road, I lost count at about 25. I took off, and ran out the house and hit the woods but they still got me.
“I was 17 then. I’m 46 now. On August the 15th it will be exactly 29 years that I’ve been incarcerated. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve been in prison 29 years. But at other times—like when I see my little girl who wasn’t yet born when I was locked up—that’s when it hits me. It’s been a long time.
“I never heard from Michael Jordan or anyone in his family. But if he ever reads this, I just want to say I’m sorry. I know there are no words that can make up for his loss. At that time, at that age, I thought I knew what I was doing, but really didn’t. What we did was horrible. It really was. I hate that I invaded anybody’s life like I did. And all the other people’s lives that I affected too. My own family, Daniel’s family, they’re all victims in a sense too. Because I know my mum, my poor mum, she’s been with me this whole way. She’s done this time along with me. But at least I’ve still had her with me. When I think about Michael Jordan, my mum can see me, but Michael can’t see his dad.
“The next parole hearing is in December next year. If I get out my main goal is to restore relationships, and build relationships that I didn’t have. I told you about that little girl that was still in her mum’s belly when I got locked up. She wants me as part of her life. I got five grandsons now and I need to get to them. The oldest one is 11. His dad’s in prison for murder, just like me. So the likelihood of him going down that road, that cycle will keep on. So I’m trying to get out there and break that cycle. Maybe I can be the role model for him that I never had. Maybe I can do something good.”