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Just Play: Legends Add Ben Gordon to the Mix

By Asher Feltman | January 30, 2017

Born in London, England to Jamaican parents, Ben Gordon moved to the United States at a young age and grew up in Mount Vernon, New York. “Growing up in New York, New York is diverse just as much as London is,” says the 11-year NBA veteran. “I lived in New York most of my life so my upbringing was like everyone else’s in my town. There were a lot of Jamaican families and restaurants.”

The global connection has turned a prolific scorer into an equally engaging personality. “It connected me closer with other athletes that weren’t from the States. It would give us something to connect on outside of basketball and that kind of brought me closer to other players that weren’t born here in America. If anything it made it easier to relate to all different types of people.”

From an early age, he took a liking to basketball and, to say the least, the feeling was mutual. For the Mount Vernon Knights, he was a star player and led the team to the 2000 New York State Public and Federation Championships.

Following his high school days, he was one of the top NCAA recruits. After getting wooed by several of the nation’s top schools, he chose to play for the University of Connecticut. Basketball and Ben Gordon were getting along extremely well.

“It’s always been something I’ve excelled at,” he says. “Especially in my earlier years all the way throughout my pro career. It’s something I have great joy in doing. It never really felt like work, it was always play. I think that’s what made it easy for me to excel.”

Blocked by Big East Player of the Year Caron Butler, Gordon came off the bench without objection his freshman year at UCONN and was the team’s second leading scorer. His sophomore year he became a starter and finished 50th in the nation in scoring with 19.5 points per game. Not just known for his remarkable shooting touch, he also led the Huskies with 156 assists.

In his junior year, he went from touted prospect to full-blown blue chip. He averaged 20.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists and hit 104 three-pointers, the second-highest total in UCONN’s storied history. The all-important three point shot comes easy to Gordon with brilliant success.

“It’s always been a huge part of my game. Even when I was in high school and college, I’d always practice NBA three-point range shots. I think when I got to the league it was a comfortable shot and I made them at a high clip.”

Along with big man Emeka Okafor, Gordon and the 2004 Connecticut basketball team won the National Championship. Gordon was the tourney’s leading scorer with 154 points, 21 of them coming in the final game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Next was the 2004 NBA Draft, taking place in his extended backyard of New York City. Gordon was selected third overall by the Chicago Bulls, one pick after the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets) selected his teammate, roommate and best friend Okafor. Gordon refers to the night as “storybook” and a “fairy tale.”

“That was the best, man,” recalls the new Texas Legend. “Especially being from New York and having the draft in New York City right in front of my family and my friends in the mecca of basketball. It was the best thing.”

“To be there with someone like Emeka, who was my roommate for like two, two and a half, three years in college and won the National Championship with him. Him going second and me going third, it was kind of like a storybook, fairy tale type of thing.”

Entering the NBA, Gordon had a huge role for the Chicago Bulls. He became a Sixth Man early on and developed into one of the league’s very best.

“My first year at UConn I came off the bench and I was the second leading scorer to Caron Butler. So I was kind of familiar with the role, doing it my first year in college, kind of the same thing. Once I got to the league, I started my first two games (but) didn’t play too well. I kind of found my niche when I started coming off the bench.”

A bit of an understatement being that rookie Gordon was named the 2005 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Beating out Ricky Davis (Boston Celtics) and Jerry Stackhouse (Dallas Mavericks), the 21-year old Gordon had been pinned to the basketball map.

He averaged 15.1 points and shot 41 percent from the three point line and appeared in all 82 games for the Bulls. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to, guess who, Emeka Okafor.

Coming off the bench is a hot button issue for a lot of players, but not for Ben Gordon. The way he sees it, all that matters is if he’s on the court or not in the game’s decisive moments: the fourth quarter.

“For a while there I was leading the league in fourth quarter scoring. You know it just became a thing. Like every fourth quarter, Coach (Scott Skiles) would run a lot of offense for me and I would get going.”

“That’s how I kind of got my feet wet in the league. It just taught me a lesson: as long as I was playing and I was in the game when it counted, those were the most important things and I didn’t allow that to blur my vision or make excuses or things like that. Just try to make the best out of it.”

In 2006, Gordon tied the NBA record with nine straight three-pointers made. In 2010, he earned the distinction of being the player to score the 10 millionth point in NBA history.

Like his college team UCONN, the Chicago Bulls have a legendary portfolio. Ben Gordon is all over it. He is the 11th all-time leading scorer at 7,383 points and has the second most three-pointers made in franchise history with 770 makes. He is behind only Kirk Hinrich and directly ahead of Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. Gordon made a ridiculous 770-of-1,856 attempts in 398 games, good for a sparkling 42 percent, which is sixth in team history.

In five seasons with the Bulls, Gordon averaged 18.5 points (career-high 21.4 in 2006-07) and shot 42 percent from beyond the arc, eclipsing 40 percent every year. He played in 316 of 328 possible games, including 29 playoff games. He was excellent for the Bulls in the 2009 NBA Playoffs against the second-seeded, defending champion Boston Celtics, averaging 24.3 PPG in an epic seven-game series. He had 42 points in game two and 33 in game seven.

After his big postseason performance, he signed a multi-year deal with the Detroit Pistons to forgettable results by his previously set standards. Traded to Charlotte in 2012, he scored 20 points in his familiar fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks on November 28th. It was the most in Bobcats’ team history.

He played 56 games with the Orlando Magic in 2014-15. After an idle season, his next stop is with the Texas Legends and the 33-year old has a lot of basketball left to give.

“For me it’s just getting back in game-playing shape, doing what I love to do,” he says. “Like everyone else here, try to make it to the NBA. I feel like a little kid again man. I’m embracing the opportunity, embracing playing with my new teammates and just trying to live the dream.”

The three-pointer used to be a specialty in the NBA. Now you have centers and incapable wing players taking multiple three’s a game. Gordon sees the trend not as a good or bad thing, but opportunity. “Right now you see so many guys shoot so many three-pointers. Way more than I’ve seen in the years that I played. Now it’s such a huge part of the game that I think it’s a great time for shooters, guys like myself, to go out there and display that ability to shoot the basketball.”

After his first game with the Legends on January 27th (in which he had 14 points, six rebounds and six assists), Gordon said he “felt great.”

“First time playing in about 16 months; shaking the rust off, trying to work myself back into game shape…It’s just great to be out there with the guys and doing what I love to do.”

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