If NBA is a dream, Thomas Jordan is for real Ex-Lake Clifton star suddenly a 76er


PHILADELPHIA -- Just after the starters for the Miami Heat were introduced, the lights inside the Spectrum -- save for one spotlight -- went dark.

It was time to meet the hometown Philadelphia 76ers.

" . . . in his first home game, a rookie from Oklahoma State," the public address announcer shouted, "number 55, Thomas Jordan."

For Thomas Jordan, a former All-American out of Lake Clifton High School, the last few days have been one of those experiences where you have to pinch yourself to see if what is happening is really true.

On Sunday he was at home in Baltimore, relaxing after a season in Spain. On Monday he was on a plane to Chicago, where on Tuesday he made his NBA debut.

By Wednesday, Jordan was in the spotlight and topped the evening with an 18-point effort in Philadelphia's win over the Heat.

He was an immediate hit with the fans of a struggling team.

"It hasn't caught up to me yet," said Jordan, a 6-foot-9, 232-pound forward. "I guess it will when it's over, and I'll look back and let it soak in."

Jordan has wasted no time making an impression. In 30 minutes on Wednesday, he took a game-high 17 shots. He filled the lane nicely on fast breaks, and scored most of his points on post-up moves that resulted in an assortment of short left- and right-handed jumpers.

"When he gets the ball inside against someone his own size, he can score," teammate Jeff Hornacek said. "I asked him if he was left-handed or right-handed because he made most of his shots with his left hand. He's got the ability to use both hands."

Philadelphia coach Fred Carter has played Jordan a lot, including 28 minutes against the Bulls.

"We only have four games [to look at Jordan], so you want to see what the guy can do," Carter said. "You don't want him on the bench being a traffic cop -- you want him out there playing. I was impressed with his moves around the basket."

At Lake Clifton, Jordan averaged 22.0 points and 13.5 rebounds during his senior season, but what most people remember is the day he walked out at halftime of the 1987 Metro Classic. His decision to leave -- Jordan said he felt his teammates weren't passing him the ball -- left him alienated.

"I don't dwell on it," Jordan said. "What I did to some people was wrong, but I'll always stand by my reasons. But after that I just wanted to stay home. I said to hell with college."

But Leonard Hamilton, who was then the Oklahoma State coach, persuaded Jordan to join him in Stillwater. Jordan sat out the first season because his college entrance scores didn't meet Proposition 48 requirements. As a sophomore, his teammates included Richard Dumas, now a rookie with the Phoenix Suns, and former Oklahoma State All-American Byron Houston. Jordan averaged 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds that season -- and then left to sign witha team in Turkey.

"I just wanted out," he said. "We had too much talent, and no one really blended with each other. We didn't complement each other at all."

The year in Turkey was followed by two seasons in Greece, before Jordan joined the Granollers team in Spain this past season and averaged 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds.

"Playing in the NBA was a dream when I was in college, but then I just let it go and was happy with the guaranteed money I was making overseas," Jordan said.

The 76ers had intended to invite Jordan to their free-agent camp before the 1989-90 season, but Jordan stuck with the guaranteed money. When the invitation came this time, there was no risk.

"The main thing I was concerned about was whether I could play in the NBA," Jordan said.

"I've been surprised with my playing time because you've got a lot of guys who have been here for years -- and I've been here for [a few] days."

Two more impressive performances, and Jordan might be able to win a guarantee next season. "I'm free [when the season's over], and I'd like to stay in the NBA and improve my game," Jordan said. "I know I can do it here. In Europe guys just stay on the same level. I want to go out and be like the rest of these guys. I want to work hard so I'll be able to get 30 [points] a night like these other guys."

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