Ben Gordon | Prepared to Launch
Ben Gordon’s poise under fire has helped instill a certain swagger to the Bulls.
By Conrad Theodore | Posted April 16, 2007
As part of his pre-game routine, Ben Gordon steps onto the United Center hardwood an hour and a half before each tip-off and meticulously unleashes jumper after jumper from around the perimeter.
His signature rainbow arch takes flight—appearing to momentarily float eye-to-eye with the UC’s 200-level seating area—before dropping to its final nylon landing pad.
When he is fully satisfied with his mechanics, Gordon begins his next ritual—greeting the now gathered fifty some odd fans hovering around the tunnel that leads back into the Bulls’ locker room. Beads of sweat trickle down Gordon’s forehead and onto his already soaked jersey. But those within arm’s reach don’t seem to mind. If truth be told, they’re more than happy to be in his presence.
A quick smile or eye contact in their direction is verification, after all, that they have indeed had a brush with greatness. And of course there is the coveted autograph that will certainly mean bragging rights at school the next day. Posters, pennants, photos, game programs are waved all around him like an all-star defensive player. But it doesn’t faze Gordon. In fact, he relishes it.
“I didn’t really go to any professional games when I was younger—I didn’t have the opportunity,” remembers Gordon. “But I could imagine what it would be like to get autographs and take pictures.”
And what are his thoughts regarding all those pint-sized number “7” Bulls jerseys he sees not just around the UC but all around the Chicagoland area? “Every time I see someone younger with my jersey on, it makes me feel good,” smiles Gordon. “It reminds me that I’m fulfilling my dream to play in the NBA. It’s still exciting every time I see one.”
Excitement may be the choice word when Bulls fans first saw Gordon don his own Chicago jersey three seasons ago. They all knew of his game. After all, he did just win an NCAA National Championship. But what stunned everyone, including his teammates and coaching staff, was that on any given night he could take over games with such eye-popping numbers as twenty points in a single quarter, not to mention his numerous game-winning buzzer beaters. But as fun as that has been to watch, Gordon has also had his critics—and no one more important than his Bulls head coach, Scott Skiles.
Gordon’s outside aim has proven more than true throughout his 3-year NBA career, as the 6-3 guard has consistently knocked down close to 40% of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Gordon himself will be the first to admit he’s still a work in progress, but work is something he has never shied away from. What he has learned so far in preparation over his career has more to do with his activities off the court than on. Gordon’s a self-described basketball junkie, so preparing himself to play 82 games has never been an issue, since he plays year round anyway.
“It’s not so much the court stuff, it’s more like taking care of my body and not overworking myself and knowing when to take days off. When I first came to the league, M.J. [Michael Jordan] was the first to tell me about getting my rest and eating right. It’s a lot easier now because I have a better understanding of what to expect.”
What Gordon didn’t expect when last season ended was that he’d soon be teaming up with the four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace. “To me, he was the glue of the Detroit Pistons when they won the Championship,” states Gordon.
After an impressive opening night crushing of the defending Champion Miami Heat, the Bulls struggled mightily during the team’s annual circus road trip, but have since become one of the hottest teams in the NBA. “I think it took about ten or twelve games for all of us to start to figure out what Big Ben [Wallace] likes to do and where he likes to play,” says Gordon. “We’re still learning.”
But Wallace has a slightly different, if not entertaining, spin on working with Gordon. When asked if he has figured out where on the court Gordon likes to get the ball, Wallace responds, “There isn’t anything that needs to be figured out. He’s a scorer. The only spot a scorer doesn’t like the ball is when it’s not in his hands. Anytime it’s in his hands, he likes it.”
Chicago’s two Ben attack - Wallace and Gordon - has Bulls fans excited about the future.
“I always watched him from afar and admired the way he played the game,” says Wallace. “You see little things when you play against him, and you see little things when you play with him. When you actually play on his team, you realize how much of an impact he really has on the game, running the show, spreading the defense to give other guys like me an opportunity to make plays.”
Although his numbers don’t always show it, Ben Gordon’s main objective is to play hard every single game. What surprises the fans and sometimes the media is when he has an outrageous night of, say, thirty-plus points followed by a modest five or six. But Gordon believes everyone goes through highs and lows doing the course of a long season.
“Obviously, I want to come out every night and score 30 points, but sometimes things just happen,” says Gordon. “Some nights you have more of a shooting rhythm, some nights your team needs you to score more and some nights they don’t. I don’t pay much attention to the numbers. I just go out and try to do my job.”
The time at which Gordon begins that job is entirely up to Coach Skiles. As he has been known to do, Skiles mixed up the starting rotation from time to time early in the season, so Gordon was both a starter and reserve for the first few months of the year. And, although he earned the NBA’s Sixth Man Award his rookie season, Gordon would gladly forfeit the honor to be a starter.
“It has nothing really to do with warming up; it’s just an ego thing,” Gordon answers honestly. “Every basketball player from the time they started playing knows that when you’re picked to be a starter, that means you’re one of the five best players on the team. So it’s more ego than anything.”
But Gordon would never put his own personal achievements ahead of the team’s. And even though he openly prefers to start, it’s finishing the game that has always been most important to him. “I take more pride at being on the court at the end of the game than in starting. I’ve always wanted to take the big shots when it counts. I think that’s what separates me from a lot of other players. Regardless of what’s going on during the game, I always want to take that last shot.”
Since the day Ben Gordon first came into the league, his name seems to always be at the top of the list when it comes to trade rumors. And this season has been no exception. When Allen Iverson became available, rumors started to fly once again. But Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson put any of that talk to rest.
“It seems that Ben’s name comes up constantly in trade rumors,” says Paxson. “It happens because he’s a terrific player and I, along with Scott Skiles, value his ability and view him as a key component to our team. I think very, very highly of Ben as a player and as a person.”
Gordon’s uncanny ability to create space and get his shot off in traffic has been nothing short of amazing.
One of the key components to the Bulls’ success this year is executing what Coach Skiles has been demanding since day one—defense. But it didn’t just happen. The players have made a conscious effort to elevate their own game.
“The core guys who have been here for a few years, along with savvy veterans Ben Wallace and P.J. Brown, sat down and talked about what it would take if we really wanted to be a Championship kind of team, and in order to accomplish that goal we have to play a Championship kind of defense,” explains Gordon. “And I think we’re doing a good job of responding. But we’re still not where we want to be, so we’re going to continue to work hard at getting better.”
Although Gordon’s defense and ball-handling skills have greatly improved, it’s what he does with the ball that made the Bulls select him third overall in the 2004 NBA Draft. That’s why there was plenty of concern at the beginning of this season when it was announced that a new synthetic ball would be introduced. Many players, including Gordon, complained about its feel and how slippery it became during the course of the game.
“It bounced differently and came off your hands differently. But I was most surprised that the league didn’t want to test it first with the players. They just introduced it and we had no choice,” says Gordon. “But I think (Commissioner) David Stern did a good job of recognizing the problem and brought back the old ball. To be honest, I didn’t know what the fuss was all about and why they changed it.”
Regardless of which ball is on the menu, Gordon has gotten into that “rhythm” he often talks about several times this year, scoring in the mid- to upper-thirties numerous times. But perhaps what’s more amazing is when he scores in the mid- to upper-twenties. Those are the games that barely get noticed anymore. Rarely does that make the morning newspaper outside of the box score.
It’s as if those games have become the ho-hum standard for Gordon—a testament of how truly talented he has become. But, like the fluidity of his jumper, Gordon casually states, “I’m just going out there and doing my job—doing what’s expected of me.”
As his numbers grow, there’s no question that the population of number “7” Ben Gordon jerseys will continue to grow as well.