- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

Eddie Jordan’s halftime tantrums need a little work.

The Wizards coach uncharacteristically lost it during a game in Cleveland recently. With his team down 17 points in the second quarter and 10 at the half and looking nothing like one of the most improved teams in the league, Jordan tried “a little bit of a locker room motivation factor,” as he put it, swatting a plastic bowl filled with gum.

“I was looking for the softest thing to hit,” he explained.

Good idea. Jordan cut his thumb.

“When you’re on Coumadin, the blood just comes out,” Jordan said of the medication he now takes after being hospitalized Thanksgiving Day for a blood clot in his left leg.

Bloodied from the attack of the killer Tupperware but unbowed, Jordan watched the Wizards storm back and beat the Cavaliers handily. But he doubts his theatrics had much to do with it. At least he hopes not because such outlandish displays of temper cause him more discomfort than a wounded hand.

“I like to feel good after a game or after a play, but I certainly don’t like to show negative emotion,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to be true to yourself. I like when things are going well, and I don’t like to show emotion when things are going poorly.”

Back-to-back losses to Orlando, both largely resulting from missed free throws, will test Jordan’s restraint. But an increase in histrionics seems unlikely.

Jordan’s approach and demeanor — you hear the terms, “low-key” and “player’s coach” a lot — seem to fit as well as the suit jackets he constantly buttons and unbuttons on the sideline. The Wizards already have won as many games as they did last year, Jordan’s first with the club. Besides, he just turned 50, and it’s too late to change.

“I can’t be anybody else,” Jordan said. “It’s the way my mother raised me. She did a lot of baby-sitting for the neighbors, and I saw how she handled us and other people’s kids.”

As an assistant with the New Jersey Nets, who made it to the NBA Finals two straight years, Jordan had a lot of responsibility and the players’ respect. His work did not go unnoticed.

“Guys are starting to understand why New Jersey did what it did,” said forward Antawn Jamison, who came to the Wizards in a trade with Dallas before the season.

Had he stayed in Jersey, Jordan probably would have replaced coach Byron Scott, who was fired during the middle of last year. Philadelphia might have hired him after the 2002-2003 season. But that’s when the Wizards were making a few changes, too — the purge that resulted in the ousters of superstar-turned-executive Michael Jordan and coach Doug Collins.

Eddie Jordan (who was not owner Abe Pollin’s first choice) was intrigued by the Wizards’ job and not just because he grew up in D.C. He believed his personality would fit a young team that had nowhere to go but up. “And I thought the way I coached would be enhanced,” he said.

Both Collins and Michael Jordan, whose influence was as strong if not greater than the coach’s, were tempestuous and abrasive, relentless in their pursuit of success and unafraid to do or say whatever it took to achieve it.

It was an interesting time, especially when Michael Jordan returned to the court for two seasons and played before sold-out arenas. The Wizards lost more than they won, but the electricity in the air was palpable. So was the tension.

Some, such as guard Larry Hughes, kept on playing and managed to remain above the fallout.

“The game’s still the same. It’s just a different system,” he said. “You can’t worry about guys screaming and jumping up and down.”

Others — and not only post-high schooler Kwame Brown, whose run-ins with Collins and Michael Jordan were well-chronicled — wilted from the heat.

Enter Eddie Jordan, whose passion for the game is belied by an approach and philosophy that contrasts boldly with his predecessors’. “He doesn’t have to jump up and down and scream,” Hughes said. “That’s not his style.”

Ernie Grunfeld, hired as president of basketball operations shortly after Eddie Jordan came aboard, has re-shaped the roster by acquiring talented players like Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, as well as some snug-fitting complementary parts.

Others, such as Juan Dixon and Hughes (currently out with a broken thumb), simply have gotten better. And everybody is getting more familiar with the new offensive and defensive schemes.

Whether the atmospheric change brought about by Jordan has contributed to the Wizards’ turnaround is harder to pinpoint, but it is undeniably different.

“To say the least,” said forward Etan Thomas, another holdover from the Collins-Michael Jordan era. “Now we have a coach who believes in everybody, who’s really positive. We have a coach right now who it feels like he’s on your side, who doesn’t get offended if you’re not playing well.”

Center Brendan Haywood, who also incurred the wrath of Collins and Jordan and has not been immune to Eddie Jordan’s attempts at persuasion, said, “When a guy messes up, you just can’t scream and yell all the time like Doug used to. It’s not always about yelling and screaming. That’s why [Jordan] is a good coach. He relates to his players.”

Jordan “knows how to communicate with his players, and he gets their respect,” said Jamison, who played five seasons for Golden State, one for Dallas and is averaging a different coach a year. “If the players have a question or suggestion, he’s willing to listen. And you don’t always see that. I’ve had seven coaches in seven years, and [with them] it’s usually my way or the highway.

“You’re able to communicate with [Jordan],” Jamison said. “You’re able to talk. But he also knows his X’s and O’s. He knows the game. You’re able to listen to him, and he’s able to listen to you. It isn’t just a player-coach relationship.”

Wizards assistant Tom Young, who was Jordan’s college coach at Rutgers, said Jordan has changed little from the point guard who directed the show for the Scarlet Knights 30 years ago.

“As a player, he got along extremely well with his teammates,” Young said. “He could get on them and correct them and do it in such a way that they all accepted it. If he had to get a little rough, he’d get a little rough. But the bottom line is everyone was the better for it.”

Coaches, like jockeys, have to know when to use the whip. By all accounts, Jordan knows. After Brown boycotted a team huddle during a game last month, Jordan immediately responded with a one-game suspension.

“When he gets mad, it’s pretty scary,” forward Jarvis Hayes said.

“He’s laid back,” Haywood said. “But at the same time, he shows some fire when it needs to be shown.”

Haywood wasn’t talking only about Jordan’s halftime escapade. Upset over playing time last year, Haywood sought an audience with Jordan. He got more than he bargained for.

“He was going at me, and I was going at him,” Haywood said. “I think it cleared the air, but I never saw it coming from him. It surprised me.”

Jordan said he recalls Haywood asking why Thomas was playing more and hinting at some kind of ulterior motive. Uh-oh.

“This is an emotional game for me,” Jordan said. “It’s my job, it’s my profession. It’s almost a religion. My mother will probably kill me for saying that, but it conjures up feelings. And I think maybe [Haywood] said something that was against my principles. If you think I’m untrue to my principles, it gets emotional for me.”

Jordan said he has heard himself described as a “player’s coach.” He was asked what that means.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I know I don’t let them get away with stuff. I work them very hard. I make sure they’re disciplined on the floor. I make sure they come to practice on time and they don’t have their shoes untied, things like that. Hopefully, it means we communicate the right way, that I don’t disrespect them and I get them all the information and resources they need.

“You should always be aware of your audience, whether you’re the head of a corporation or a coach,” Jordan said. “My guys, they’re not rah-rah guys in a sense. They go about their work. They can be aggressive when they want to be, they can raise their game. Gilbert is a killer-instinct kind of guy, he and Larry, but we don’t have guys who growl and put a scowl on their face and hit people. We have more of a finesse team, more active and athletic than physical or demonstrative. I’m like them. I don’t like to be demonstrative.”

Jordan’s Sacramento team went 27-55 during his first full season as a head coach in 1997-98. Then he got fired. Last year’s Wizards had the same record. “Good players make good coaches,” Jordan said.

Talent, however, changes. A way of doing things rooted in core values does not.

“Your voice and what you say and how you say it is part of coaching,” Jordan said. “A big part. Be yourself, keep your composure and talk to [players] like professionals.

“I think players would rather hear solutions and information than someone jumping in their ear and screaming. I think they rely on these solutions. Give it to them in a professional voice, and that’s enough. And save the fire and brimstone for certain times. Like Cleveland.”

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