Eric Gordon has had a long NBA career, one that may finally coming together in the quiet role he plays for the Houston Rockets.
The Indianapolis Jewish Community Center, located next to his childhood home, had been his pre-school, his summer camp and where he first picked up a ball as a four-year-old. Ira Jaffee, the former JCC Executive Director tells the story of when Eric was about 7 or 8. The sports director said “We have this young man who can shoot the three-pointer, and you should see his crossover dribble. His dad would like to know if he can play two years up”. Jaffee recalled. “I had to go see this myself, and sure enough, this kid was just incredible. You knew there was something special here.” Eric Gordon played in JCC leagues for five or six years before graduating to the world of AAU basketball.
It was at that same JCC that Eric Gordon would later declare his intent to leave college and join the 2008 NBA draft. Unfortunately, on the way, he became part of an unethical college recruiting process that still burns a hole in many hearts.
It was after his sophomore season of high school that my alma mater, Illinois, landed their highest recruit. He had superstar written all over him. On November 30, 2005 Eric Gordon chose the Fighting Illini and their new coach Bruce Webber over traditional power houses including Duke. The future looked bright in Champaign-Urbana.
Then came the unexpected turn of events. Gordon began to question the strength of the remaining Illini’s 2007 recruiting class. Then, in February 2006, Indiana University fired head coach Mike Davis and replaced him with Kelvin Sampson. Sampson went on to hire Jeff Meyer, Eric Gordon Sr.’s close family friend, as an assistant. The rumors began to fly.
During AAU tournaments Gordon also became close with future NBA stars including Derrick Rose. He tried recruiting Rose to join him downstate, but Rose declined. Finally, in October of 2006, Gordon broke his verbal commitment to Bruce Webber and signed a National Letter of Intent with Big Ten rival Indiana.
He then proceeded to finish his high school career as “Mr. Basketball” in the State of Indiana, and a McDonald’s All-American. Rivals.com ranked him the nation’s #2 high school prospect in the class of 2007, behind Michael Beasley.
Gordon would finish his freshman and only season at Indiana as the Big Ten Freshmen of the Year, leading the league with 20.9 points per game. Even though he became a “one and done”, his decision to switch schools not only damaged the Illinois basketball program but fans were not very forgiving. In his only game at Illinois in February of 2008, fans heckled his family so badly that his father eventually turned around and “flipped off” the crowd. That was followed by plastic bottles being hurled in their direction. The Illini athletic director had to apologize. Illini fans though still remember how Gordon betrayed them.
Twelve years later, Gordon has survived injury after injury that threatened to derail him. When we discuss NBA players whose careers have been affected by injuries, both Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon, two childhood teammates, can make that claim. Though Gordan did manage a couple seasons early in his career averaging over twenty points a game, his lifetime averages of 16.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists have always left him just short of reaching star level.
Today, he finds himself in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. In his eight playoff games, he has exceeded 20 points five times, is averaging 18.8 points and always remains a threat from deep. The third option in the explosive Rockets offense, Gordon has also provided key defense against Chris Paul and LeBron James. Houston’s defense has been phenomenal, and Gordon is leading the way with 34.1 minutes a game.
The Rockets need Gordon to continue to produce at a high level if they are to keep winning and have a shot at the title. After so many disappointments, will Gordon again let down those who count on him as he did to Illini fans 13 years ago?
This Illini fan is ready to forgive. The guy has been through enough. He is a warrior lingering behind the shadows of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. There is always one player whose legacy is defined in the playoffs. This year, the story may belong to Eric “Splash” Gordon.