- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Eddie Jordan, the native-son coach of the Washington Wizards, is an uncommonly decent man who was verbally assaulted with the N-bomb by a wacko fan at halftime of Game 2 in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

This is 2006, not 1956, right? Just when you think we as a society have advanced to a somewhat higher level of acceptance on matters of race and creed, a twisted person, at a professional basketball game no less, jolts everyone out of this notion with one of the worst pejoratives there is in the English language.

Pejoratives are a funny thing. They hit everyone differently, no doubt because of their historical implications. Being called a cracker is considerably different from being called the N-word. Why, one of minor league baseball’s more notable teams for much of the 20th century was the franchise known as the Crackers in Atlanta.

Most of the whites who settled this land centuries ago carried their own pains of persecution, much of it connected to religion and a fixed class system that offered them no hope. But they came here, not in chains and irons, but in the hope that they would be allowed to worship freely and scratch out a new beginning.

Fast-forward to 2006. We sometimes remain overly obsessed with racial grievances, imaginary or otherwise, because of our past. In 1999, a furor ensued beyond the Wilson Building after a mayoral aide to Anthony A. Williams employed the word “niggardly” in a staff meeting. This word shocked a black person there — and ignited a debate around the city — although niggardly has no racial connotations. People of all races are apt to be miserly and stingy on occasion.

But there is no cause for misunderstanding with the N-word that was dropped on the 51-year-old Jordan, who has led the Wizards into the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the first time the franchise has achieved this feat since the 1986 and 1987 seasons.

Jordan no doubt can recall a different time of race relations in the city from his boyhood days in Southeast, where he honed his playing skills on the asphalt and attended Archbishop Carroll High School before earning a basketball scholarship to Rutgers University.

Although Jordan has come a long way from his Southeast roots as a member of an NBA championship team with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982 and two trips to the NBA Finals as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and 2003, he has not been desensitized to the seeming hopelessness that destroys so many to this day from his old neighborhood.

He spearheads a program called “Coach Jordan’s Neighborhood 8” that allows community groups from Ward 8 to attend home games of the Wizards — on his dime. His is a gesture that leads those from the threadbare streets east of the Anacostia River to the gleaming Verizon Center in Chinatown and to the coach, who hopes, in some small way, to serve as a role model.

Jordan downplayed the racial slur after the game, which is his style. His understated demeanor, quiet dignity and lack of ego are noteworthy in a game predicated on flash and high-wire acts. He is a model of restraint and even-temperedness with a team that at times could try the soul of a saint.

Jordan is content to conduct his business without fanfare. He makes no effort to shout his worthiness to a city that has been slow to recognize his accomplishments.

He is comfortable enough with who he is to routinely note this or that coaching omission on his part after a game.

After seldom-used Billy Thomas missed two free throw attempts late in Game 2, Jordan wondered if he had made one of the worst coaching blunders ever.

In the end, the native-son coach had another moment to embrace, however tempered it was by the bigotry and stupidity of a fan.

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