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Tennessee Found a Gold Mine in Bejeweled Bridgette Gordon

Times Staff Writer

Among the pressing problems facing Bridgette Gordon Thursday was how to squeeze her jewelry on over the tape that covered her right hand and wrist.

Gordon, an All-American forward from Tennessee, solved the problem by cutting away the tape where it prevented her from sliding on the five rings she wears on her right hand.

This is the sort of dedicated problem-solving that landed Gordon on the 1988 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team and brought her college team to its fourth consecutive women’s Final Four.

Top-ranked Tennessee will play No. 5 Maryland, and No. 2 Auburn will play No. 3 Louisiana Tech in tonight’s National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament semifinal games. The games will be televised live on ESPN beginning at 6:10 p.m.

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Gordon should be known for her scoring--she is the all-time leading scorer at Tennessee, man or woman, with 2,409 points, and she has scored more points (337) than any other woman in NCAA tournament history. She also is the all-time steals leader for the Volunteers.

But there is more to Gordon. The senior is most widely known for the massive drapings of gold necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings that are her trademark off the court. Rules dictate that no jewelry be worn on the court.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt refers to Gordon’s daily 49-piece gold jewelry ensemble as “the Mr. T starter set.”

In the often sedate world of women’s college basketball, this is big news to the 440 accredited media covering the Final Four. After endless rounds of news conferences Thursday, Gordon and her gold seemed to be the day’s hit.

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For the people who run women’s basketball--whose philosophy is to get attention, but only for the good things--the flamboyant Gordon is to be taken in small doses.

But she seemed comfortable in the middle of a huddle of reporters at the Tacoma Dome Thursday. Gordon, who is from DeLand, Fla., revealed that she was partial to silver jewelry in high school but said she needed to move up in the precious metals market once she got to college.

She even wears a gold tooth cover--the very latest in accessories. She slips a gold casing over one tooth and the initial ‘B’ appears to be engraved in her tooth.

Rather than play down Gordon’s fascination with jewelry, the Tennessee sports information department has prepared a list of Gordon’s golden wardrobe and happily provides this to reporters.

In fact, among the information that the school sent reporters this season, promoting Gordon’s chances to become the player of the year, was a poster showing Gordon perched on a stool, bedecked in her gold. The caption reads, “If it glitters, it must be Gordon!”

Among the items she wears around the house, every day, are:

--15 gold chains around her neck.

--14 rings, nine on the left hand and five on the right.

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--Nine earrings, four in the left ear and five in the right.

--Nine wrist bracelets, four on the left wrist and five on the right.

--One ankle bracelet, right ankle.

--One watch, left wrist.

Gordon will not be interviewed without first loading her jewelry. When Cal State Long Beach played at Tennessee in the second game of the season, the postgame news conference was delayed a few minutes while her teammates waited for Gordon to reload.

Perhaps her most precious item is the gold medal she won in Seoul. Gordon was one of two current collegians on the Olympic team coached by Kay Yow of North Carolina State. The other is Vicky Bullett of Maryland, Tennessee’s opponent in today’s semifinal game.

Bullett and Gordon could not be more different. Where Gordon is brash and loud, Bullett is quiet and reserved. Still, the two became friends and were suite-mates in the Olympic village.

When Gordon went shopping, what did she buy? “You have to ask?” Bullett said, laughing. “That’s one thing you can say about Bridgette, she loves her gold. I love to shop, too, but she was out of control.”

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Yow, who was also living in the same suite, can name each item Gordon purchased. “She would come in from shopping and make us all come in and see what she got,” Yow said. “I cannot tell you how much stuff that child bought.”

Gordon and Bullett, also an All-American, returned to school to great acclaim. Bullet knew she was important when her tiny town of Martinsburg, W. Va., named her the grand marshal of the Apple Harvest Parade.

Gordon returned to find that opposing players took great pride in beating an Olympian. She has been the target of a lot of intimidation from other teams.

And she has responded. This season, Gordon’s reputation as a hotdog has nearly outstripped her reputation as one of the game’s best players. Players have reported that she spits on them. After the Southeastern Conference championship game, which Tennessee won, Gordon was named the tournament’s most valuable player. She came on to the court and refused to shake hands with any other player, including her own teammates.

Most recently, in the East Regional final against Long Beach, Gordon irritated many of the 49ers by laughing at them and pointing to the scoreboard. She and Long Beach senior Cheryl Dowell engaged in an ugly pointing exchange, which Gordon dismissed.

“Sometimes you get caught up in the tempo of the game and you don’t know what you are doing,” Gordon said of the incident. “I think I handled the situation fine. I think I handled myself with a lot of poise.”

Summitt has been uncharacteristically tolerant of such showmanship. Some rival coaches have surmised that Summitt will put up with Gordon’s antics only until the time she stops producing points at such a rate.

“What’s she going to do, bench the player of the year?” asked one coach.

Gordon has learned this season that being an Olympian is a heavy burden. She is held to a higher standard and scrutinized closely.

“They always tell us about the little eyes upon you,” Bullett said. “Now, I know what they mean.”

Gordon said she was astounded how children responded to her as an Olympian, saying they could recite statistics she had long forgotten.

“I’m very careful of what I do on and off the court,” Gordon said. “People are watching.”

To Gordon, getting attention is precisely the point.

Notes

Cal State Long Beach guard Penny Toler was named to the Kodak All-America team for the second straight season. Other players named: Jennifer Azzi of Stanford, Chana Perry of San Diego State, Vicky Bullett and Deanna Tate of Maryland, Clarissa Davis of Texas, Bridgette Gordon of Tennessee, Nora Lewis of Louisiana Tech, Nikita Lowry of Ohio State and Vickie Orr of Auburn.


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