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The buzz doesn’t get much better for a high-school basketball game. A half-hour before the opening tip, a Saturday afternoon capacity crowd pours into Loyola University’s 5,500-seat Gentile Center. As many adults as teens cram into the stands. TV crews shuffle back and forth gathering footage of pregame warm-ups. Banners advertise corporate sponsors.
At the center of it all are teams from Loyola Academy and its North Shore rival New Trier. The Loyola Ramblers have spent most of the regular season ranked number two or number three in Illinois (depending on which newspaper was doing the ranking), and they are among the favorites in the state tournament that culminates March 17th in Peoria. Still, on this day, the main attraction is a certain Loyola Academy senior, a soft-spoken young man named Jeffrey Jordan.
Jeff is the firstborn son of Michael Jordan, arguably the best athlete the world has ever seen. For some in the crowd, this is history, like watching Babe Ruth’s progeny play baseball. For others, it’s pure curiosity: Is he any good? Other observers are coaches, scouts, and basketball geeks on a mission to evaluate Jordan’s skills. A few years ago, he barely registered on their lists. Then, midway through the current season, talent scouts started calling the 18-year-old one of the better unsigned prospects in the country. Could things have changed that much?
Intensifying the spectacle is the presence of the Jordan family, who are surrounded, as usual, by bodyguards and university-hired security. National Basketball Association retiree Michael Jordan has folded his six-foot six-inch frame into a reserved seat directly across from the Loyola Academy bench. He occasionally shouts advice to Jeff and his younger son, Marcus, a talented sophomore also on the team. The boys’ mother, Juanita, sits in a row above Michael. (A week after the game, the two announced they were filing for divorce.) Juanita is joined by Michael’s mother, Deloris.
Celebrity sighting that it is, fans point at the Jordans throughout the game. Later, a few dozen people cluster around the family, prompting the security detail to close ranks. The initiated call this spectacle “The Circus,” though that seems far too gentle a term to describe the attention and scrutiny that have followed Jeff Jordan on and off since grammar school. After a season filled with standing-room-only crowds, countless media interviews, and ongoing chatter about Michael Jordan’s firstborn son, Loyola’s Ramblers are poised for a strong finish. Though he’s too reserved to admit it, much of what Jeff Jordan does in the next few weeks will determine how well Loyola Academy will fare-and which college he could play for this fall.
Win or lose, this basketball season is a milestone for this high-school senior, a very private young man’s signal that he has survived and thrived under the weight of being heir Jordan.