One thing seems certain: Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson attended a dinner together in 1988, and there was some smack-talking going on, but from there the memories of exactly what happened at a Chicago restaurant get a little fuzzy.
Three men -- former Bears defensive end Richard Dent, former Bears coach Mike Ditka and former Tyson co-manager Rory Holloway -- tell different versions of what went on that night. Why is this an issue now? Holloway has written an upcoming tell-all about his former client, and one of the most sensational anecdotes from the book centers on a stare-down between the two legendary athletes.
"Michael Jordan looked like he'd seen a ghost," Holloway told the Tribune.
Holloway recalled that the face-off was more funny than frightening, adding that Tyson never would've hit Jordan, but Dent vehemently disputes it ever went down that way, calling some aspects of Holloway's version "a lie."
Dent told the Tribune on Tuesday that Tyson, Jordan and others helped him celebrate his birthday, which is Dec. 13, and in a 1988 article, Tyson told the Tribune's Bernie Lincicome that he was in Chicago that day to catch a game between the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.
Holloway rehashed the alleged encounter in a phone interview Tuesday. As he writes in "Taming the Beast: The Untold Story of Team Tyson," a book he co-authored with novelist Eric Wilson that's set for a May 1 release, Holloway said Tyson decided after having several drinks to confront Jordan about an alleged past fling with Tyson's then-wife Robin Givens -- and did so in front of Dent, Ditka, former Tyson promoter Don King and other guests.
Tyson and Givens were going through a very bitter and very public separation at the time, and they would eventually divorce months later on Valentine's Day, 1989.
"Like any guy, Mike has an ego; he used to hear these little rumors," Holloway said of Tyson. "The jealous side came out of him, exacerbated by the drinking. ... Here’s Mike, who’s not a drinker, drinking Long Island iced teas. It’s almost like a little kid getting drunk for first time."
Holloway continued, "I see Mike tense up. Tyson's reputation at the time is the baddest man on the planet. He starts, 'I know you (had sex with) her.' (Jordan) was waiting for Mike to either laugh or say something. Michael Jordan don’t seem like he knew how to take it but he knows, 'I don’t want this guy to swing across the table.' "
For his part, Ditka implied that Holloway's account was overblown in an interview with the Sun-Times' Dan Cahill: "I think it was in my restaurant, but I’m not positive. It’s silly. Michael Jordan is not going to get into an altercation with anyone. He’s a class guy. First of all, the stupidest thing in the world is alcohol. When you drink, you get that mouth running sometimes. That’s probably what happened."
If that didn't muddy the waters enough, how's this? Dent insists Ditka wasn't even there.
According to the Hall of Fame defensive end and member of the 1985 Bears, Tyson, Jordan and several others attended his 28th birthday dinner at a restaurant Dent declined to reveal. "Mike Ditka wasn’t there, so that would be a lie," he said.
"It was a little get-together after Michael Jordan’s game. After the game, we had a little get-together at a restaurant. That was about it," Dent said.
If there was any jawing going on, Dent said, it was between him and Tyson over a theoretical fight against Evander Holyfield (because of an injury and a 1992 rape conviction, Tyson wouldn't fight Holyfield until 1996). Dent took Holyfield's side while Bears linebacker Otis Wilson helped fellow Brooklynite Tyson make his case.
Tyson "had a lot to say (about Holyfield). Like a champion, he said a lot," Dent said. "I brought the conversation up about my homeboy (Holyfield). He (Tyson) was saying a lot. That's all I wanted to do: Let’s talk about something that makes some sense. They weren’t ready to fight Holyfield. I thought my homeboy could do it (beat Tyson).
"When I said that, he (Tyson) went on kind of a different wave. It (the conversation) started going different ways. That was about it," Dent said.
Dent acknowledged Tyson did mention Givens in a conversation with Jordan -- "He spoke about Robin" -- but declined to comment further on the details or the tone of the conversation.
"He (Tyson) said some things to Mike (Jordan)," Dent said. "I don’t recall anything of that nature. I never saw Mike (Jordan) look scared."
Jordan declined to comment through a representative on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Holloway said he understood Dent's comments but asserted that Ditka was there. Holloway added that one memory stands out in his mind: Tyson chiding the other black athletes at the table for not speaking freely and being "scared of that white man."
Holloway also stood by the rest of his story, saying some media reports mischaracterized the moment between Tyson and Jordan. It was amusing, Holloway insisted.
"Don King was trying to change the subject," Holloway said. "Me and (co-manager) John Horne was trying to kick Mike under the table. (Tyson said to Jordan,) 'Yo man, you think I’m stupid, I know you’re (having sex with) my wife.' Jordan had almost like a blush.
"I know I’m not crazy, you don’t forget stuff like that," Holloway said. "I had a lot of funny moments with Mike Tyson … and this was one of them. Michael Jordan was my hero and I’m a big football fan, so I don’t forget something like that."