Jordan Builds Bonds, Earns Respect On Road From Olympian To All-Star
NEW ORLEANS – Nearly half of this year’s All-Star competitors could ditch the small talk and the catching up.
For the 11 All-Stars who just months ago captured an Olympic gold medal as members of Team USA, Sunday night was less a gathering of regular season foes as much as a reunion of close friends, picking up where they left off on the friendships they formed this summer.
“I didn’t really know too many of those guys, and now we talk all the time,” said Jimmy Butler. “Still got the group chat that we have. It’s a brotherly bond now.”
It was in Rio with Team USA where many of the NBA’s greatest players got to know one another on a personal level, and it was there where many of the game’s most elite athletes gained a new level of respect for DeAndre Jordan, who this weekend enjoyed his first experience as an All-Star – an honor Kevin Durant thought was overdue.
“He's paid his dues, and I feel like this should have happened a couple years ago,” Durant said. “He means so much to his team and he's so respected around the league.”
Jordan and Durant have known each other since high school, but the two largely went their separate ways once entering the NBA. That friendship grew again the past couple years, and it was in Rio where they became closer than ever – so much so that Durant said this All-Star experience felt like his first, solely because he’s going through it alongside Jordan, someone he now considers one of his best friends.
“He's one of the most down-to-earth superstars I’ve met,” Durant said.
The road to gold in Rio helped seal that notion, and it helped Jordan, Durant, Butler, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Draymond Green and Carmelo Anthony all feel more at ease together again this past weekend in New Orleans, this time as members of the West and East All-Star teams.
“I was with those guys the whole summer, and it was cool to build friendships and bonds with those guys,” Jordan said. “To be able to come out here, it’s cool to see them again.”
They laughed, pulled pranks and playfully threw jabs back and forth. The Team USA All-Star constituents genuinely seem to like one another’s company, and that was evident all weekend.
It was evident as Cousins, Jordan and Green led a lighthearted celebration tossing their hands in the air and mobbing Durant and Russell Westbrook, the former Thunder teammates turned Western Conference adversaries, on the sidelines after they teamed together for an extraordinary All-Star Game alley-oop.
It was evident when Jordan, Cousins and a handful of Warriors players all entered an elementary school together as a group to help build a playground at the NBA Cares Day of Service. And it was evident as Jordan and Cousins interrupted each other’s media conferences Friday during their All-Star media availability, then again Saturday before Jordan’s first ever NBA dunk contest, with Cousins coming up behind Jordan and wrapping his arms around the Clippers’ center’s neck.
Without the Team USA experience, that bear hug might’ve been slightly more awkward.
“You didn’t know guys as much as you do now,” Cousins said. “You kind of come in and hear things about them, and then you get a chance to actually know them on a personal level. It changes the whole aspect of how you think about a person. It was a great group of guys. DJ’s always the life of the party, always joking around and keeping it real light in the room.”
That’s the case whether Jordan’s around NBA All-Stars or dipping apple slices with a kid reporter, as he was Thursday upon arriving in New Orleans at the end of his media circuit.
The minute Jordan stepped foot inside the Ritz-Carlton, where Thursday’s media rounds took place, he was tackled by DeRozan and Lowry.
“I knew him well, but that’s another relationship where we came a lot closer,” DeRozan said. “We were close, but to see us come even closer was a great thing.”
And an inevitable thing, with the amount of time the superstars spent together in close quarters.
“That was everything, being with guys for 30-plus days, competing for something bigger than you, playing for your country every single day, all day, every night, doing everything with these guys,” DeRozan said. “It leaves a life-lasting memory.”
It made friendships stronger, and for some, including Butler, it built friendships that never previously existed.
“You know them from a basketball standpoint, but off the court the person that they are, you get to learn a lot about them,” Butler said.
Jordan felt there were a couple times previously in his career he could’ve made his first All-Star team, but he added that everything happens for a reason. Nearly a decade after falling to the Clippers in the second round in 2008, after turning himself into a First-Team All-NBA, First-Team All-Defense, gold-medal winning center, it finally happened for him.
And with his three brothers, his mother, his stepfather and cousins and close friends alongside him in New Orleans to show support, and with All-Star players who’ve become like brothers to him on the court following a summer in Rio, he felt the timing couldn’t have been better.
“I’m just really excited everybody was able to get down here with me for my first time and just experience it with me,” Jordan said.