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Air Jordan Finds 'Land : Cleveland Suits the Style of Transfer From New York

January 27, 1988|STEVE ELLING | Times Staff Writer

After every game, the players await the telling tally, where pencil lead on paper signifies a job well-done. Clipboard in hand, Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell stands in front of the players, scanning the day's dose of statistics. Depending on the team's performance, Braswell's message is either grim or upbeat.

He looks down the list of players, reading aloud their individual totals. The team, in turn, responds with good-natured cheers or jeers, depending on the player under scrutiny and the mathematical melange that follows. After last Wednesday's 93-67 win over Taft, the pronouncements from Braswell went something like this. . .

"Rich Branham: 11 points and 12 rebounds, a solid day's work."

(Polite applause from team.)

"Damon Greer: 11 points and 14 assists, a good all-around game."

(More applause and a high-five or two for good measure.)

"Lucious Harris: 18 points, 13 rebounds and 4 three-pointers. Way to look, Lucious."

(Much more applause, a smattering of back-slapping and a grin from Braswell, who knows a good punch line when he sees one coming.)

"The Secretary of Defense: 21 points--and get this--1 steal."

(Booooooooooo. . . . )

"When he said that I just kind of went 'Ohhhhhh, no.' " said the self-appointed secretary in question, junior point guard Adonis Jordan. "Now I guess I have to go out and get six or seven steals to keep the nickname up."

Valley League opponents know him by his real name. Jordan, a 5-11 transfer from New York City, is averaging 16.5 points, 7.9 assists and 7 steals a game. He is a big reason the Cavaliers (13-2, 5-1 in league play) are ranked No. 3 in the City Section by The Times. Cleveland plays host to No. 2 Fairfax (13-3, 6-0) at 7 tonight.

Few would have guessed Jordan would be playing at all, much less starting. When Jordan walked through the door in early September, virtually on the eve of school, nobody knew Adonis from Adam.

"I didn't know the kid existed," said Braswell. "I had never heard of an Adonis and the only Jordan I'd ever heard of was named Michael."

Only weeks after making the 3,000-mile transition from Yonkers to Los Angeles, Jordan was running the Cavaliers' transition game. Braswell calls Jordan a blessing. Point guards on other teams call him a curse, as they swear to themselves after he picks them clean and glides for another uncontested layup.

Jordan, 16, calls himself lucky, a feeling that probably stems from the way Braswell discovered him--two weeks removed from Yonkers--at an orientation for new students.


Braswell makes it a habit of attending orientation each year, just in case a real trophy of a player comes strolling through his door. Or in this instance, if a very disoriented player is staring into the trophy case.

"I try to get out to the school to see if there are any tall people walking around campus that look like basketball players," Braswell said with a laugh. "I'm always looking for those Nike and adidas high-tops."

Jordan first caught the coach's eye in the administration building, but Braswell didn't think much of it.

"I think he had on these orange Nikes," Braswell said. "And he's about a 5-11, 6-0 guy, so I figure he's probably a guard. I didn't get real excited, but I remember thinking, 'Well, maybe.' "

Braswell pointed Jordan to the orientation meeting in the school gym. Afterward, Braswell found Jordan in the gym foyer.

"He was just standing there looking at our trophies, team pictures and all of those old things," Braswell said. "So now I start to think 'Maybe he is a basketball player.' "

Braswell introduced himself, and learned that Jordan was from New York and that he did indeed play. Braswell met Jordan's parents, who had attended the orientation. They told the coach a different version of something he had heard many times before.

"His father says 'I know people are always coming up to you to say that their kid can play basketball, and that you have a tendency not to believe it because every parent believes their son or daughter is great at whatever they do,' " Braswell said. "But he said 'I really think you'll be impressed with the way he plays.' "

Jordan mentioned that he had some videotapes of his games at Yonkers' Roosevelt High, where he started as a sophomore last season. Braswell gave the family a ride home, and a breathless Adonis quickly retrieved the tapes and a sampling of news clippings from the house.

"He brought out these tapes and newspaper articles on him," Braswell said. "I'm going, 'Not bad, a 10th-grader and he's already got stories written about him.'

"But I'm thinking, he still might be weak, so I take the tapes home."

Braswell was impressed, bordering on ecstatic. He phoned Jordan to tell him so. Then he phoned players, friends, other coaches, relatives and "anybody that would listen." Braswell had just watched Jordan score 31 points in Roosevelt's league championship game.

Hours earlier, neither knew the other. A few weeks later, Cleveland had a new point guard.



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