From the JCC to the NBA

Freshman Eric Gordon announces he will leave Indiana University for the NBA at the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis, April 8, 2008. (Linda Evans)

Freshman Eric Gordon announces he will leave Indiana University for the NBA at the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis, April 8, 2008. (Linda Evans)

NEW YORK (JTA) – It wasn’t the yarmulke-wearing, Shabbat-observing Tamir Goodman – once dubbed the “Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated – at a Jewish community center news conference telling the world he was heading to the NBA.

Rather it was Eric Gordon – a 6-4, black, non-Jewish shooting guard from Indiana University – who sat before 300 friends, family members and the national sports media on Monday at the Arthur M. Glick JCC in Indianapolis to say he was going pro.

Odd as it may seem, making the announcement at the JCC was a natural for Gordon, who is expected to be a top 10 pick in the NBA draft after becoming the first freshman to lead the Big Ten conference in scoring at 20.9 points per game.

After all, before he was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball as a senior at North Central High School, before he earned third team All-America honors from The Associated Press at Indiana, he started his basketball journey at the JCC.

“The Gordon family has lived across the street from the JCC for 20 years,” the institution’s executive director, Ira Jaffee, told JTA. “Coming to the JCC was a daily occurrence and an everyday part of his life. He went to our preschool. He went to our summer camps. He played in our basketball leagues.”

A non-Jew belonging to the JCC in Indiana is not unusual. Only about 3,500 Jewish families live in Indianapolis, and about half of the JCC’s 3,000 members are non-Jews – a pretty typical situation for a Midwestern JCC, Jaffee said.

He noted that from an early age Gordon, whose driveway is “literally a three-pointer away from the driveway of the JCC,” was an unusual basketball player.

“When he was about 7 or 8, my sports director came into our office and 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.”

Gordon played in JCC leagues for five or six years before graduating to the world of AAU basketball and travel teams as a young teenager. But he still works out there during the off-season and occasionally plays pickup games.

Last year the JCC honored the Gordon family at its executive meeting.

Gordon’s decision to make his announcement at the JCC seemed to return the favor, Jaffee said.

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