- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

Eddie Jordan’s preparation began long before he was hired as coach of the Washington Wizards last month. It began long before he was an assistant with the New Jersey Nets or coach of the Sacramento Kings or a player in the NBA or part of the best basketball team in Rutgers history or a football and hoops star at Carroll High School in Northeast.

Eddie Jordan’s preparation began about the time he was 11, and started missing dinner.

“I had to punish him for not being home on time,” said Jordan’s mother, Marguerite. “He had done it so many times, being late for dinner because he was playing basketball. I decided to teach him a lesson. So I just gave him a glass of milk. Later, he came back down and said he wanted to say something. He said, ‘I was playing basketball because I want to be a coach one day and I’ve got to learn how to play.’

Replied Marguerite: “Coaches have to learn to be on time.”

Eddie was always punctual after that, she said.

It remains to be seen if Jordan’s arrival as the Wizards’ sixth coach since 1999 proves to be a timely remedy for an ailing franchise. What we do know is that Jordan’s life has come full circle. At 48, he is the first coach in franchise history born and raised here.

Chances are Jordan was playing on the courts at the Fort Stanton playground the night his mother finally cracked down on him. The hoops were visible from the front porch of the house on 17th Place SE, the house where Eddie Jordan lived with his mother and father, Edward Lee Jordan Jr.; his brothers, Victor and Zach; and his sister, Natalie, the baby of the family. Some baby.

“She was tougher than all three of them, and still is,” her mother said. “And Eddie knows it.”

The playground eventually added a pool, and it was an impressive facility.

“Everything was right there for us,” Jordan said this week, taking a break from the whirlwind of his new job. “We had baseball fields, football fields, a whole lot of court space. It was sort of like we were isolated.”

That was a good thing, he said. Although Jordan grew up in the inner city, he was mostly spared the problems and pitfalls that are normally — and stereotypically — associated. Fort Stanton was a working class neighborhood “a little bit up the hill from Anacostia,” Jordan said. Many of the homes, like Jordan’s, were single-family dwellings. Crime was minimal. Drugs, gangs, all that, mostly were non-existent. It was, he said, “a terrific atmosphere to grow up in.”

The residents were close-knit. Everyone knew everyone and looked out for one another. Said Marguerite: “There was no such thing as doing something around the corner that nobody knew about.”

There wasn’t much to report about Eddie, although his mother said he would occasionally “get out of line.”

For example?

“Throwing spitballs at girls.”

Serious stuff.

Jordan himself is hard-pressed to come up with examples of misdeeds. OK, he said, here’s one. He occasionally used to, uh, relieve himself in the backyard when he didn’t feel like going into the house. Here’s another: He started skipping church, switching his affiliation to the asphalt temple. Fort Stephens was the place to be on Sunday mornings, courts graced by such single-name hoop gods as Kermit (Washington) and Adrian (Dantley).

One reason, although not the main one, Jordan took the Wizards job was because of what he calls his “support group.” His immediate family and a ton of old friends are all right here. But also, he said, “I think the community would like to see me succeed because I’m from Washington. A lot of kids growing up here have aspirations to be successful. If I can grow up in Southeast and go out into the world and then come back …”

Rather than being forced to overcome a fragmented family life, Jordan benefited from stability. Marguerite lived in the same house for 30 years before recently moving in with Natalie and her family in Camp Springs. Jordan’s father worked at the Pentagon and later the National Weather Service as a fleet manager, controlling the flow of vehicles in and out, and was home every night. Marguerite worked part time in a school cafeteria but made sure she got back home before her kids.

Summers were almost idyllic. Hoops and swimming all day, and on weekends, the family would stay in a small house on a piece of rural property in Amosville, Va., near Warrenton, that had been passed down from Jordan’s grandfather.

“It was fabulous,” Jordan said. “I used to like to play the radio, and the only songs you could get were country and western. Here I was, a kid from Southeast, and I listened to country and western.”

Always a good student, Jordan was at the top of his class at Moten Elementary School through third grade. Then he took a test and got to go to a more advanced school, Stanton Elementary. After sixth grade, he attended Gordon Junior High in Northwest, where his classmates were the children of ambassadors and diplomats. He could stand that for only a year. Jordan transferred to Frederick Douglass Junior High, which was closer to home.

At Douglass, Jordan said he met kids from “different neighborhoods.” These were a bit tougher than what he was accustomed. He also met a coach named John Paul Davis. When he was introduced at his Wizards news conference, Jordan got choked up talking about Davis, who died several years ago.

“He was one of my biggest influences,” Jordan said. “You had a group of young men at Douglass who, even at that age, carried guns, knives. They had no problems with being aggressive and undisciplined. But Coach Davis saw some guys who had some skill, and he said, ‘If you try out for the basketball team, I’ll give you direction.’ I saw the impact he had on kids who could have gone to jail.

After Jordan and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates won the NBA championship in 1982, Davis was the first person he called.

“I don’t want to embarrass anyone, or be degrading, but he did give kids direction and discipline,” Jordan said. “And he did it in a way that was fun. He was a godsend for some of us.”

Jordan was a star at Douglass in both football and basketball. So were a few of his pals, and they all decided to attend Carroll, a private high school located across the street from Catholic University, and play both sports.

Carroll basketball coach George Leftwich first got to know Jordan during the 1969 Youth Games, an amateur summer tournament. Jordan, an end and linebacker, said he probably had more football than basketball scholarship offers. “I loved football,” he said. But he said he realized early in life that basketball was easier than football to play alone.

It was because of football that Jordan drew the attention of American University coach Tom Young. Carroll football coach Maus Collins recommended Jordan to Young, who then went to see for himself. “This kid can play,” thought Young, who years later would become Jordan’s assistant in Sacramento and now fills the same role with the Wizards.

Young invited Jordan to the team banquet at the end of the season and told Jordan he could bring a date. Jordan took his mom.

“That was pretty impressive, I thought,” Young said. Within a month, Young left AU to become the coach at Rutgers. He told Jordan, “Listen, I want you to visit. We need a point guard.”

Jordan did indeed visit the New Brunswick, N.J., campus and knew that was where he wanted to be. But it wasn’t the facilities nor Young’s persuasiveness that clinched the deal. The star of the team, Phil Sellers, showed Jordan around for the weekend. They got along famously. “He was the big man on campus,” Jordan said. “The girls loved him. We went to every party. I had a great time.”

Jordan was locked in on Rutgers, but other coaches took a shot. One was John Thompson, who had just finished his first year at Georgetown. A legendary player at Carroll more than a decade earlier (where one of his teammates was George Leftwich), Thompson was looking at another point guard. He liked Jordan, too.

“I thought he was extremely competitive,” Thompson said. “That was the thing I loved about him. He was a [heck] of an athlete who played hard. Defensively, he was very good. He was a guy who conducted himself in a very gentlemanly manner for someone who was as competitive.”

But, Thompson said, “we got in on him a little late.”

When Thompson visited his house, “it was a big event in the neighborhood,” Jordan said. “He was really good. My mother liked him, my dad liked him. He ate a lot of cookies and milk. And a lot of pound cake.”

Things worked out pretty well for Jordan at Rutgers. Playing with Sellers, Mike Dabney, Hollis Copeland and James Bailey, Jordan ran the team on the floor and helped lead the Scarlet Knights to a 26-0 regular-season record in 1976, and the school’s only Final Four appearance. Jordan (who led the NBA in steals one year) was the on-court brains behind the operation and a defensive whiz.

“For our game, at that particular time, Eddie was perfect,” said Young, a former Maryland player and assistant whose passion for defensive pressure has been emulated by the likes of current Terps coach Gary Williams. “He started the break, filled the lanes, played defense. He was my first recruit, and my best.”

Meanwhile, Young’s replacement at American, Jim Lynam, also had tried to recruit Jordan. No thanks, Jordan said. Years later, Lynam (who coached the Bullets from 1994 to 1997) was able to return the favor. After the Lakers won the title in ‘82, they traded Jordan and point guard Norm Nixon to the San Diego Clippers for Byron Scott and Swen Nater during training camp. Jordan knew he was essentially a throw-in, a fact confirmed by Lynam, who was now coaching the Clippers.

“I called him and said, ‘Jim, I’m ready to come down,‘“Jordan said. “He said, ‘Well, Eddie, I think we have enough guards.’ He was serious. They had, like, eight guards in camp.”

Jordan briefly played in the CBA, hooked up with Portland, got released, and eventually was summoned back to the Lakers by coach Pat Riley for three games at the end of the 1983-84 season. Now he was Byron Scott’s teammate, if only for a little while. But the two would be reunited. In another of life’s little twists, Scott in 2000 was hired as the Nets’ coach and Jordan, who was bypassed for the job, became his top assistant.

Throughout his career as a player (he retired from the NBA in 1984 after seven seasons) and a coach, Jordan tried to stay close to his family despite the distance. As Natalie said, “He’s the only one who ventured out.” Now they’re together again. Zach Jordan, an electrician, lives in Upper Marlboro. Natalie is in Camp Springs, with Marguerite.

Jordan’s father attended nearly every game Eddie played in junior high, high school and college. But he was stricken with cancer during Jordan’s rookie year in the NBA, with Cleveland and then New Jersey. In the spring of 1978, toward the end of the season, Jordan gave his dad a pennant signed by the Washington Bullets, the eventual NBA champs. Edward Lee Jordan Jr. died shortly thereafter.

Ten years later, Jordan lost his brother, Victor. A staff sergeant stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Victor was a top-flight mechanic who worked on Air Force One. And he loved to play basketball. Playing in a pickup game after spending a night in the hospital — he wasn’t feeling well and had been coughing a lot — Victor Jordan collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was 36.

“He went up and down the floor, and that was it,” said Eddie Jordan, who was working at Boston College at the time. “He couldn’t help himself but to play basketball. He taught me how to play.”

Jordan and his wife, Charisse, have two young children (he also has two kids from his previous marriage), meaning that Marguerite’s role as both a mother and grandmother has expanded. She’s thrilled about that (“They know I’m their grandma,” she said. “I didn’t get a chance to spoil my own.”), but more than anything, she is happy for her son.

“He’s been wanting to be here for a long time,” she said.

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