Air Jordan Finds ‘Land : Cleveland Suits the Style of Transfer From New York
After every game, the players await the telling tally, where pencil lead on paper signifies a job well-done. Clipboard in hand, Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell stands in front of the players, scanning the day’s dose of statistics. Depending on the team’s performance, Braswell’s message is either grim or upbeat.
He looks down the list of players, reading aloud their individual totals. The team, in turn, responds with good-natured cheers or jeers, depending on the player under scrutiny and the mathematical melange that follows. After last Wednesday’s 93-67 win over Taft, the pronouncements from Braswell went something like this. . .
“Rich Branham: 11 points and 12 rebounds, a solid day’s work.”
(Polite applause from team.)
“Damon Greer: 11 points and 14 assists, a good all-around game.”
(More applause and a high-five or two for good measure.)
“Lucious Harris: 18 points, 13 rebounds and 4 three-pointers. Way to look, Lucious.”
(Much more applause, a smattering of back-slapping and a grin from Braswell, who knows a good punch line when he sees one coming.)
“The Secretary of Defense: 21 points--and get this--1 steal.”
(Booooooooooo. . . . )
“When he said that I just kind of went ‘Ohhhhhh, no.’ ” said the self-appointed secretary in question, junior point guard Adonis Jordan. “Now I guess I have to go out and get six or seven steals to keep the nickname up.”
Valley League opponents know him by his real name. Jordan, a 5-11 transfer from New York City, is averaging 16.5 points, 7.9 assists and 7 steals a game. He is a big reason the Cavaliers (13-2, 5-1 in league play) are ranked No. 3 in the City Section by The Times. Cleveland plays host to No. 2 Fairfax (13-3, 6-0) at 7 tonight.
Few would have guessed Jordan would be playing at all, much less starting. When Jordan walked through the door in early September, virtually on the eve of school, nobody knew Adonis from Adam.
“I didn’t know the kid existed,” said Braswell. “I had never heard of an Adonis and the only Jordan I’d ever heard of was named Michael.”
Only weeks after making the 3,000-mile transition from Yonkers to Los Angeles, Jordan was running the Cavaliers’ transition game. Braswell calls Jordan a blessing. Point guards on other teams call him a curse, as they swear to themselves after he picks them clean and glides for another uncontested layup.
Jordan, 16, calls himself lucky, a feeling that probably stems from the way Braswell discovered him--two weeks removed from Yonkers--at an orientation for new students.
HERE COMES MR. JORDAN
Braswell makes it a habit of attending orientation each year, just in case a real trophy of a player comes strolling through his door. Or in this instance, if a very disoriented player is staring into the trophy case.
“I try to get out to the school to see if there are any tall people walking around campus that look like basketball players,” Braswell said with a laugh. “I’m always looking for those Nike and adidas high-tops.”
Jordan first caught the coach’s eye in the administration building, but Braswell didn’t think much of it.
“I think he had on these orange Nikes,” Braswell said. “And he’s about a 5-11, 6-0 guy, so I figure he’s probably a guard. I didn’t get real excited, but I remember thinking, ‘Well, maybe.’ ”
Braswell pointed Jordan to the orientation meeting in the school gym. Afterward, Braswell found Jordan in the gym foyer.
“He was just standing there looking at our trophies, team pictures and all of those old things,” Braswell said. “So now I start to think ‘Maybe he is a basketball player.’ ”
Braswell introduced himself, and learned that Jordan was from New York and that he did indeed play. Braswell met Jordan’s parents, who had attended the orientation. They told the coach a different version of something he had heard many times before.
“His father says ‘I know people are always coming up to you to say that their kid can play basketball, and that you have a tendency not to believe it because every parent believes their son or daughter is great at whatever they do,’ ” Braswell said. “But he said ‘I really think you’ll be impressed with the way he plays.’ ”
Jordan mentioned that he had some videotapes of his games at Yonkers’ Roosevelt High, where he started as a sophomore last season. Braswell gave the family a ride home, and a breathless Adonis quickly retrieved the tapes and a sampling of news clippings from the house.
“He brought out these tapes and newspaper articles on him,” Braswell said. “I’m going, ‘Not bad, a 10th-grader and he’s already got stories written about him.’
“But I’m thinking, he still might be weak, so I take the tapes home.”
Braswell was impressed, bordering on ecstatic. He phoned Jordan to tell him so. Then he phoned players, friends, other coaches, relatives and “anybody that would listen.” Braswell had just watched Jordan score 31 points in Roosevelt’s league championship game.
Hours earlier, neither knew the other. A few weeks later, Cleveland had a new point guard.
WELCOME TO THE ‘LAND . . .
TAKE A NUMBER
After peeling himself off the roof, Braswell realized that about the last thing he needed was another guard. He already had three seniors--Greer, Joey Manliguis and Mike Gray--with varsity and playoff experience. And two juniors, Tim Bowen and Andre Chevalier, had performed well on the junior varsity last season.
“I really wasn’t concerned about the guard spot,” Braswell said. “If anything, I was hoping for some big 6-6 or 6-7 guy to come in and play.”
A few days before the season, however, Gray was declared academically ineligible. A projected starter, Gray would be lost until early February.
“The guard situation could have been terrible,” Braswell said, “We have other guards that can play, but they aren’t the offensive threat that Mike is. So here comes this kid, and he’s a great scorer and defensive player.”
Jordan has made the most of his chance, making the biggest impression with his tireless defense and lightning-fast hands. In a 70-43 win over El Camino Real two weeks ago, Jordan had 11 steals, including eight in the third quarter.
“Yeah, eight sounds about right,” said El Camino Real assistant Jeff Davis. “It seemed like more than that. He’s probably the quickest guy we’ve seen.”
The quick move didn’t unsettle him; his numbers are nearly identical to those of last season, when Jordan was an All-Westchester County selection after averaging 17 points and 8 assists a game for Roosevelt, which finished 19-5.
“For a sophomore especially, that’s a pretty prestigious honor,” Roosevelt Coach Connie Haydock said. “It’s voted by the coaches, and there are some very competitive teams out here.”
Jordan also was named to the Empire State team, one of six regional all-star teams in the state.
“He’s an impact player,” Haydock said. “He can do a ton of things. He can play at point or off-guard, and his defense makes up for a lot of mistakes by others.”
Haydock said Jordan was eager to learn--and more than ready to play.
“He’s just the type of kid that’s very easy to coach,” he said. “He’s a gym rat, always looking for a game. When he heard there was going to be a three-point line, he was in the gym shooting 100 of them a day. He was always around.
“It was almost like losing a son.”
EAST MEETS WEST
Jordan said the move was not easy. He had serious reservations about the West Coast, which he did not exactly envision as basketball’s fast lane.
“I thought it was going to be slow, real slow,” Jordan said. “All my friends were saying ‘Out West it’s sloooow,’ or ‘They’re soft out there.’
“But it’s really the same, we break and everything. The only thing you don’t see as much of is the flashy stuff that you see in New York, where the guards go one-on-one more.”
As his game has fallen into place, so has everything else.
“I told my mother that I didn’t know if I’d like it out here, because I’d be starting all over,” Jordan said. “But I’m making friends, and I never thought it would be easy.
“I mean, it’s like walking into a dark room and turning on the light.”
Braswell admits that Jordan was in the dark on how to play Cleveland’s brand of basketball.
“I had my own ideas about how East Coast ball is played,” Braswell said. “I’m thinking he might be out of control a little bit, and that he probably throws the ball away 10, 20 times a game from hot-dogging, stuff like that.”
Wrong on the first count, Braswell also thought Jordan would have trouble adapting to the new system.
“If you’d have told me that some guy who did not play with us in spring or summer league all of a sudden showed up in September and is going to be a starter for me, I’d have laughed at you,” Braswell said. “But I don’t think there was any doubt in anybody’s mind when Michael went down who was going to be the guy to step in there.”
The Secretary, it seems, steps in quite often, picking others clean.
“I can’t remember a kid with quicker hands,” Braswell said. “His hands are near his waist and the pass goes off and flick , his hands are there that fast.”
It is quite possible that the man with the hands cemented his relationship with Braswell after handing him a little jab. After Jordan furnished Braswell with a game film, Braswell returned the favor, furnishing the newcomer with a tape of Cleveland’s loss to Crenshaw in the 1986 City final. Long before he knew of Cleveland’s postgame name-and-numbers sessions, Jordan got in a little preliminary dig of his own.
“I’m thinking he’s going to see the film and go ‘Yeah, yeah, great stuff,’ ” Braswell said with a smile. “But he says ‘Not bad. Lots of turnovers, though.’ Here he is, Mr. New York, he’s been here for a couple of days, and he’s telling us we’re making too many turnovers.
“I loved it.”