The counter guy at Bierkraft laughed at how sweaty I was. I’d gone straight into the store after a jog to grab some beers for the rest of the day.
“Well, beer is replenishing,” he conceded.
“I know,” I told him, adding, “Did you know Michael Jordan used to drink a six pack after every single game?” He said he didn’t. As I walked home I realized maybe I didn’t either.
Where had I first heard this rumor? Was it just an urban legend that had been passed around by barstool jockeys for years? Or was it a sports tippling tale that sounded absurd on the surface—like Wade Boggs drinking 107 beers on a cross country flight—but actually held water?
Was drinking cheap, light beer (packed with sugar, carbs, and electrolytes) after an intense workout—and not Gatorade—the best way to actually be like Mike?
Unfortunately, the mere fact that His Airness played an impromptu beer pong game with some Florida bros back in 2013 meant that Googling “Michael Jordan beer” was worthless. It simply gave me page after page of dweebs on two-bit sports blogs arguing about whether or not Michael Jordan was a beer pong cheat (“No elbows, MJ!!!”).
I plowed through all the books on Jordan—and, oh boy, are there a lot of them, perhaps 5,500-plus available on Amazon—looking for any mentions of his post-game drinking habits. There were a few.
Sam Smith’ once-controversial The Jordan Rules recalled that Jordan “sucked down champagne like a baby sucking on a bottle” after the Bulls’ first NBA Championship. A pretty evocative image, sure, but I’m guessing Jordan wasn’t drinking the bubbly because he thought it possessed any sort of restorative powers.
Conversely, in Michael Jordan: The Life, some Bulls employees discuss how Jordan and his teammates used to enjoy a few beers on the team bus. But this liquid intake seems to have been a mere side note to the more important tradition of heckling of portly team GM Jerry Krause:
“Those guys would get a few beers in ’em back there, and then they’d start in on him,” one staff member recalled, singling out Jordan for being particularly ornery after he’d had a few brews (“Hey, Jerry Krause, this bus went faster yesterday without your fat ass on it!”).
Jordan sucked down champagne like a baby sucking on a bottle.
A few other books also mentioned Jordan drinking beers after games, but none specifically noted that #23 drank those beers for any other reason than as a celebratory post-game ritual, or for giving him the added bravado to razz a front-office employee.
Then again, it’s not like post-game beers were all that unusual in the NBA of MJ’s day—an era before personal chefs, nutritionists, and the 24-hour scrutiny of Deadspin/Skip Bayless/et cetera. It’s no secret that the NBA was a drinker’s league at one point, for both players and coaches. Jordan’s longtime coach Phil Jackson famously ended each work night with a beer and a smoke. So did Coach Don Nelson. Charles Barkley was, unsurprisingly, a big drinker. Shane Battier more surprisingly so. Current Sports Illustrated writer and former Boston Celtics ball boy Chris Mannix even remembers buying cases of post-game Coronas for Allen Iverson.
And that’s not all. Toni Kukoc was rumored drink wine before games—and nut job Ron Artest during them! Vin Baker and Keon Clark couldn’t stop drinking long enough to save their once-promising careers.
It was just hard for me to believe that Jordan—ultra-competitive, uber-fit Michael Jordan—would have ever done such a thing, or that he would have actually thought it would be beneficial to his recovery and future performance.
But, then again, maybe that’s why he was the G.O.A.T.
Finally, I stumbled upon a stray paragraph in an out-of-print Roland Lazenby book Blood on the Horns:
“In the first half hour after a game, Jordan and various teammates would pound down five or six beers and often fire up a cigar. It’s not unusual for pro basketball players to drink beer after games. They’ve been doing it for decades. It helped them replace the body fluids they’ve sweated away.”
Aha! So it was true. Maybe.
Sam Smith somewhat confirmed, telling me:
“It was fairly common back then for beer to be in locker rooms and players to have a can or two in the hour or so they’d linger after. Maybe take a few with them to drink later. No one much hurried to leave [the locker room].”
Yet when I reached out to Tim Grover, Michael Jordan’s former personal trainer and the bestselling author of Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, he vehemently denied that Jordan pounded a sixer post-game:
“It doesn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with an athlete having a drink or two after a game, for relaxation. But alcohol doesn’t benefit recovery. In fact, it does the opposite if you’re drinking too much.”
But as a personal trainer and not a team-affiliated one, had Grover spent as much time in the Bulls’ locker room as beat reporters and writers like Smith and Lazenby? Was it possible one of his most high-profile clients hid his drinking from him like I hide my drinking from my wife? I noticed the Bulls also had a head trainer during Jordan’s era, a man named Chip Schaeffer, who was surely in the locker room every single night. He was also quoted in Michael Jordan: The Life:
“They’ll (Michael Jordan and his teammates) have a couple of beers after a game. I don’t think anybody is abusive about it. They drink their Gatorade and GatorLode, and they like beer, too.”
Schaeffer has been a part of 11 NBA championship teams with both the Bulls and Lakers, and he’s now the Sacramento Kings’ Director of Athletic Performance. When I asked him to clarify if Jordan pounded beers in an attempt to aid in his recovery he responded:
“Well, we have an old rule in this business about what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room, so don’t expect any dirt on my old Bulls teams. Having said that, I will say that beer does contain carbohydrates [about 10 to 12 grams in a regular 12-ounce can and half that in a typical light beer], but unfortunately it also contains alcohol, which is one of the few things that is actually absorbed in the stomach as opposed to the small intestine, where most nutrient absorption takes place.”
Jordan didn’t let a brew sit around. It went down.
I didn’t know what to think any more. It felt like the basketball cognoscenti were dancing around the question and quite possibly hiding something from me rather than risking the well-known wrath of Jordan. It was also starting to seem possible this was, in fact, just an unfounded rumor, passed around because, while it sounded so improbable, it also fed the mythology of the gambling-obsessed, cigar-puffing, everything-to-the-max mythology of MJ. I’d have to reach out to the man himself.
As a beer geek, I of course wanted to know what brand of beer Jordan favored for these post-game replenishing escapades. Was he an Old Style man like most of Chicago during his heyday? Or did he prefer the giant industrial beer brands—brands as big as Nike, Gatorade, or Hanes?
Unfortunately—you probably know where this is headed—Michael Jordan’s “people” refused to respond to any of my missives.
I only had one other option (and no, it wasn’t randomly tweeting at Dennis Rodman). I located author Roland Lazenby on Facebook, friended him, and then asked him about that one particular passage in Blood on the Horns. Luckily, he was willing to talk with me via Facebook’s terrible messenger system:
“MJ was never known as a big drinker, unlike Larry Bird who has been known since college as a man with a serious taste for brew. But MJ did enjoy that cigar and beer after games in his second stint in Chicago…pro basketball has long been a beer drinker’s league, perhaps in part for that same reason: a lot of sweat, a lot of beer afterward.”
Most importantly, Lazenby added, “[Jordan] didn’t let a brew sit around. It went down.”
Verdict: Good enough for me! Jordan was almost certainly, probably, maybe, perhaps pounding six packs after each and every game he played.
As Sam Smith further told me: “They [Michael Jordan and the Bulls] drank beer for the obvious reason: because they were thirsty and liked the taste. It was [just like] the typical weekend athlete having a beer after a game.” And now, after every workout, I will feel justified in being like Mike.
With a new brewery popping up nearly every single day in America, maybe it’s finally time to bring back Hop’n Gator, a short-lived (and unlicensed) mix of beer and Gatorade.