Still a hero
Butler's Jordan stands tall despite crucial misses
Posted: Saturday March 18, 2000 12:50 PM
By Tim Crothers, Sports Illustrated
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- One of the endearing qualities of the opening week of NCAA tournament is that every day it produces a LaVall Jordan, an anonymous player from an anonymous team whose poignant story would never had been told had fate not placed the basketball in his hands at a decisive moment.
With Butler and Florida tied 60-60 in the final seconds of the second half on Friday afternoon, Butler's junior guard launched a jumper that he believed would win the game. It glanced off the rim and out. Then with 8.1 seconds left in overtime and the Bulldogs leading 68-67, Jordan toed the foul line for two shots. The 83.3 percent free throw shooter, who earlier this season had nailed 27 in a row, missed both shots. Seconds later, Florida's Mike Miller sank a desperate five-foot floater at the buzzer to end Butler's season. Afterward, Jordan sat in front of his locker and said, "This is only the second-worst thing that happened to me this week."
On Sunday morning in Albion, Mich., Jordan had stood beside the bed of his 87-year-old great aunt, Jetha Jeffers, the woman who had raised him. Jeffers was in grave health and could hardly speak but whispered to LaVall that she loved him and he responded in kind. Jordan then returned to the Butler campus in Indianapolis to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show with his teammates. A few hours later, Jordan learned that Jeffers had passed away. While the rest of the Bulldogs flew to Winston-Salem for the shootaround, Jordan returned to Albion and attended his great aunt's funeral on Thursday. He didn't rejoin his team until 11 p.m. on the night before the Florida game.
As 32 teams pack to go home after the opening round, speaking with LaVall Jordan for a few minutes on Friday puts the word loss back in the proper perspective. Eventually Jordan found himself the last player in the Bulldogs' dressing room, proudly telling a total stranger about this extraordinary woman who had taught him so many life lessons. "She was a very strong person, which I guess you have to be just to live 87 years," Jordan said. "I believe that this experience will make me stronger. It just wasn't my day to be a hero."
Or was it?
Tim Crothers is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer.