The Epic Tale of Eddie Jordan: Connections, Relationships, and the Basketball Community
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, almost since Eddie Jordan got fired from his gig with the Wiz. Well, now that he’s at the helm of the Philadelphia 76ers, this is an appropriate time as ever to publish.
My feeling is that a majority of Wizards fans think Jordan was unjustly fired (or at least weren’t dancing in the streets when he departed), and that even more wish him well.
Count me among both of these groups. Although, when he was terminated, I wasn’t like, “OMG! What an injustice!”
I was more disappointed with the entire landscape of the team, and later resigned to it just being ‘one of those things’, and in the end, maybe it was best that both parties moved on. But we’ll never really know.
In any case, here goes my tribute to Jordan’s basketball career (to date).
Eddie Jordan was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers out of Rutgers with the 11th pick of the 2nd round (33rd overall), in the 1977 NBA Draft. Ernie Grunfeld was selected with the 11th overall pick out of Tennessee by the Milwaukee Bucks in that same draft.
Over 30 years later, Grunfeld fired Eddie Jordan in the 11th month of 2008, partly due to Jordan’s inability to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. Three strikes you’re out? The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Wizards in the 3rd game of the season.
The above is just a small example of the intricate cobweb of connections in the community of basketball. Eddie Jordan has been tied to many different people in many different directions.
If you’re a fan of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, then you’ve undoubtedly seen the episode where Mac and Charlie get a job in a mail room for the health insurance. If not, here’s a little clip from Hulu to wet you’re appetite.
In composing the below, I felt much akin to Charlie. And Pepe Silvia, well, that’s Eddie Jordan.
The Making of a Player’s Coach & Believer in Free Love
“The team (Rutgers) also had chemistry, which formed the previous summer during pickup games at the old College Avenue Gym in New Brunswick, known as “The Barn.” The team spent so much time together away from the court that it became as famous for its antics as its fastbreaking style of play.
“It was the camaraderie, it was the undefeated season. There was a lot of hysteria,” [Eddie] Jordan said. “The parties on campus weren’t bad either.”“
[from: '76 Rutgers Team Relishes Its Niche, The Record (Bergen County, NJ), Mar. 29, 1996 - Rafael Hermoso]
After starring at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, DC, Jordan, known as “Fast Eddie” went on to shine for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, eventually being elected to the school’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
Dick Vitale was an assistant coach for Rutgers starting in 1970. Before moving on to be the head coach at the University of Detroit in 1972, Vitale was instrumental in recruiting Phil Sellers to Rutgers out of Brooklyn. Sellers, in his senior year at Rutgers, an all-American campaign, led the team to the 1976 Final Four. Eddie Jordan, MVP of the East Regional during that run, was a junior on that ’76 Scarlet Knight team, which started 31-0.
Rutgers lost their semi-final game against Michigan, 86-70, and then to UCLA in the consolation game. Indiana beat Michigan in the championship game to complete an undefeated season, giving Bobby Knight his first NCAA title. Eddie Jordan is not like Dick Vitale, nor Bobby Knight.
Tom Young coached Eddie Jordan at Rutgers. In 1984, Jordan retired from the NBA and became a volunteer assistant under Young at Rutgers. Young previously coached at American University in Washington, DC from ’69-’73, where he actually recruited Jordan to play out of Carroll. Young was able to get the disciple to follow him to New Jersey in late 1973.
Young’s departure beget the ’73-’78 AU reign of Jim Lynam, who coached the Washington Bullets from ’94-’97, and had Scott Skiles, current head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks (the team that drafted Grunfeld), play for him in ’94-’95. Lynam is currently an assistant with the Sixers, where he will presumably stay to work under Jordan, and his son, Jim Lynam, Jr., was recently fired by the Wizards after 15 years of service.
Lynam Sr.’s AU departure beget Gary Williams’ tenure at American (’78-’82), which of course, beget the eight years of Ed Tapscott at the helm of the AU Eagles.
Tom Young also played at Maryland in the late 50s, and later happened to be an assistant in College Park while Gary Williams was involved with the freshman squad. In addition, Young coached at Catholic University before coaching at American….DC Connections.
Young went to coach Old Dominion for the ’85-86 season, and Eddie Jordan followed. That first year at ODU, Kenny Gattison was team captain on a 20-8 squad that made it to the ’86 NCAA tournament, beating West Virginia in the 1st round, but losing to Duke, and former Bullet Mark Alarie, in the 2nd round.
The Blue Devils would go on to lose to the Louisville and ’86 tourney MOP, Pervis “Never Nervous” Ellison. Ellison would lose the “Never” and team up with Alaire on a ’90-’91 Bullets squad, coached by Wes Unseld, who also played at Louisville (from ’65-’68). Unseld’s son, Junior, was an assistant in DC for Eddie Jordan, and remains on the Wizards’ coaching staff.
Back to Kenny Gattison, he played with Byron Scott on the ’95-’96 Grizzlies. In 1983, Scott, along with Swen Nater was traded from the San Diego Clippers to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Norm Nixon and Eddie Jordan. Jordan later played with Scott briefly on an ’83-’84 Lakers squad. At one point, some speculated that Jordan would Scott in New Orleans, didn’t happen. It also might help to know that Gattison spent most of the career with the very Hornets franchise that is now located in New Orleans. In ’94-’95, Gattison played on the Hornets with former Bullet, Michael Adams, who was coached by both Kevin Loughery and Wes Unseld on two separate stints in Washington.
After Old Dominion, Eddie Jordan went to be an assistant under Jim O’Brien at Boston College. The Gary Williams, whom you’ve heard of before, preceded O’Brien at BC. Williams coached the Eagles from ’82-’86, the aforementioned Michael Adams being a team captain during Williams’ first three years. Later, in 1997, Jim O’Brien succeeded current Wizards lead assistant, Randy Ayers, at “the” Ohio State University, where Gary Williams also coached from 1986-’89.
Back to Rutgers…. in 1988 Jordan returned to New Jersey to be an assistant for the Scarlet Knights under Bob Wenzel, who just happened to be an assistant for the New Jersey Nets the previous year. Jordan stayed until June of 1992 when he was hired as an assistant by the Sacramento Kings.
Pete Carril and his Princeton offense were narrowly beaten by Rutgers, 54-53, in the first round of that famed ’76 tournament. Eddie Jordan would go on to learn his Princeton style under Carril in Sacramento. Carril also served as a volunteer coach for the Wizards in 2007.
In 1993, Sacramento assistant Dave Wohl was fired, mostly because then Kings owner, Jim Thomas, was in favor of promoting Eddie Jordan to full-time assistant. Jordan and Wohl were both on the roster of the 1977-’78 New Jersey Nets. That Nets team, which also included Bernard King, was coached by Kevin Loughery. Loughery also coached Bernard King in 1987-’88 when he was with the Washington Bullets.
Another guy coached by Kevin Loughery in Washington? Eddie Jordan’s buddy, Mike O’Koren, played for the Loughery led Bullets in ’86-’87. Oh, and you know that O’Koren was also a teammate of Eddie Jordan on the ’80-’81 Nets (also coached by Loughery), right?
Garry St. Jean was fired in March of 1997 and assistant Eddie Jordan took over the head coaching duties for the Sacramento Kings. After the ’97 draft, St. Jean became GM of the Golden State Warriors. In his first draft as Warrior GM, St. Jean arranged the draft day trade of Vince Carter for Antawn Jamison. Also on St. Jean’s watch, the Warriors selected Gilbert Arenas with the 31st pick in the 2nd round of the 2001 NBA Draft. Partly due to St. Jean’s salary cap maneuverings, the Warriors were unable to sign Arenas for market value, which led to Arenas joining the Washington Wizards in 2003.
Jordan’s NBA Head Coaching Debut: The Sacramento Kings beat the San Antonio Spurs, 114-110. That night, Mitch Richmond led the Kings in scoring and Vinny Del Negro played for the losing Spurs. Del Negro now coaches the Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s Wizards coaching debut was a 99-74 win against the Bulls. Eddie Jordan also won his first playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, at that time coached by Scott Skiles.
Mitch Richmond started the ’97-’98 season upset that the 6-year contract he signed prior to ’93-’94 no longer provided him with what he thought to be fair market value. Jordan, not enthused by Richmond’s bad attitude, benched him in a preseason game against the Chicago Bulls. About five months later in May of ’98, Richmond was traded to the Washington Wizards in one of the worst trades EVER by the DC franchise (way to go Wes Unseld). Moving on…..
“Seconds after the Kings dropped a 102-99 decision to the host New Jersey Nets, Jordan chased down Leroy Richardson at midcourt and screamed at the official while pointing a finger repeatedly in his face. “I was sticking up for my team,” Jordan said minutes after the Kings’ fourth game in five days. “Call it, T.I., temporary insanity.“
[from: Kings' Jordan boils after loss, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 27, 1998]
In the first matchup between the Wizards and the Nets that didn’t involve Eddie Jordan since 1999, Leroy Richardson served as one of the three game referees. Moving on…..
“Life imitates art — The Sacramento Kings walked off their bus at the Milwaukee Bucks‘ practice facility recently, and realized they weren’t quite sure where the gym was. So coach Eddie Jordan walked up to a security guard, who is named Art and was sitting near the entrance, to ask for directions.
Assistant coach Pete Carril then said, “Good, morning, officer.”
Jordan was starting to get miffed, because the guard hadn’t responded. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, it’s like that,’ ” Jordan said. “He’s not going to speak to me.”
Turns out Art is an ultra-realistic sculpture done by Milwaukee artist Marc Sijan.“
[from: "There's room for growth on All-Star Game rosters," Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 1, 1998 - Steve Aschburner]
In August of 1998, Kings owner Jim Thomas had a change of heart and relieved Jordan of his Sacramento head coaching duties. Assistant Mike Bratz, taken 66th overall in the 1977 NBA Draft, double that of where Eddie Jordan was taken in the same draft, was also fired. Not a year later, Thomas sold controlling interest of the Kings to the Maloof family. Hey, did you know the Maloof family owned the Houston Rockets from 1979-1982?
Prior to the following season, Jordan was rumored to be the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers job, you know, the team Gilbert Arenas almost chose to play for. The Clips instead opted for Chris Ford, who had previously been fired from the Milwaukee Bucks.
Instead, Jordan was hired, along with that Jim Lynam fellow, to be an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets in March of 1999. A couple of months later in July, New Jersey would hire Ed Stefanski as Director of Scouting. Stefanski would go on to serve for nine years in the Nets organization.
At the time in ’99, Nets head coach, Don Casey, had an interim tag, previously replacing the departed John Calipari. Casey was fired about a year later in April of 2000. The Nets, interested in promoting Jordan or hiring Washington Bullets interim coach Darrell Walker as possibilities, ultimately went with Jordan’s old buddy, Byron Scott. By the way, Scott was also an assistant with Jordan in Sacramento. Did I mention that Mike O’Koren was also an assistant with that Nets team?
In 2001, Eddie Jordan’s name came up for the head coaching position at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights went with Gary Waters instead. Waters now coaches Cleveland State, in Cleveland, Ohio, where LeBron James will be playing until 2010 (yuk, yuk). Moving on…..
June 2002: New Jersey assistant coach Eddie Jordan reached far back into his closet for a little comic relief, wearing his Nets jersey from the late 1970s to the pregame shootaround. –
“He’s put on a few pounds since his playing days, but I thought it was cool,” Coach Byron Scott said. “He lightened the guys up again. We were in watching tape and guys were pretty serious. He came out and made a fool of himself, but he gave the guys something to smile about and laugh about to get their mind off of basketball for a brief moment. I think it was good for them.”
[from: AP, June 13, 2002]
In 2002, Jordan’s name came up for the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors head coaching gigs. Yes, Jordan could have been hired by the man he replaced in Sacramento, Garry St. Jean, to coach none other than Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. Instead, Jordan backed out of both jobs, desiring to win a championship in New Jersey. The Nuggets filled their vacancy with former Bullets assistant coach (under Wes Unseld), Jeff Bzdelik, and the Warriors chose future Sacramento Kings coach, Eric P. Musselman.
June 2003: Eddie Jordan, being heavily courted by the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers (kinda ironic, huh?), who were also considering Randy Ayers to fill the position vacated by Larry Brown, chose the job in his hometown of D.C., instead of the one 130 miles north. Jeff Van Gundy was actually the first choice of the Wizards, but he chose the Houston Rockets instead. Guess where Van Gundy was from 1988-’89……he was an assistant at Rutgers with Eddie Jordan under Bob Wenzel.
Eddie Jordan used have his old college buddy, Tom Young, come to training camp in Sacramento. In 2003, Eddie Jordan hired Young to be an assistant with the Washington Wizards.
Flashback 1988: “Six of [Michael] Jordan‘s steals came in the third period, which snapped a club record of five set by Eddie Jordan”
[source: NY Times.....]
Eddie Jordan would later help clean up a mess in D.C. made by Michael Jordan.
Most know Eddie Jordan’s basic history with the Wizards, so where to go from here?
Well, Jordan’s buddy he met in New Jersey, Ed Stefanski, hired him to coach the 76ers….and the end of the tale remains unwritten.
Suggested Reading: The End of The Eddie Jordan Era: Say Goodbye to the Fall Guy, November 24, 2008, Truth About It.net
[photo source: flickr/Keith Allison]