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One of the mysteries about the The Last Dance is whether it will delve into Michael Jordan’s gambling habits; the documentary’s director Jason Hehir promises that will happen this Sunday night. I’ve been searching for years and with the help of a friend finally found this clip of Bob Costas and Peter Vecsey discussing the matter on the NBA on NBC during halftime of Game 6 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Knicks:
Vecsey, who was a longtime NBA columnist for the New York Post (with a brief interlude at USA Today during the early 90’s) and essentially created the national insider beat for the sport, was of the opinion that it was embarrassing for NBC to air an interview between Costas and Richard Esquinas, who claimed to have taken MJ for substantial sums in golf bets.
“I think it was an embarrassment to the media, to NBC especially,” Vecsey said. “Personally Bob, I would’ve never gone on with a story like this. I think we were really soft on him. I think we were irresponsible. I think the guy’s motives were clear. He’s a publicity seeker. He’s looking to make financial gain. We gave a story of no importance, importance and credibility.”
Costas handled this moment extremely calmly for someone whose journalistic instincts were being challenged on-air in front of millions of people, and Vecsey made some fair points about how this was not newsworthy because it did not violate NBA rules, and that Jordan bet large sums of money because he could afford it.
Nonetheless, it’s wild to watch this and think about what the reaction would be today if an analyst challenged his/her own network’s decision-making on-air in the middle of a supremely significant playoff telecast.
If you’re interested in learning more about Vecsey, I profiled him a few years ago for The Big Lead, speaking to people like Pat Riley, Julius Erving, David Stern, and Larry Bird about his career.