Michael Jordan is probably not who you think he is.
He isn’t a six-time NBA champion who played for the Chicago Bulls. He isn’t the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. He isn’t the star of ESPN’s “The Last Dance.”
But Michael Jordan was still a skilled shooting guard who wore No. 23. And his basketball prowess was impressive enough to draw comparisons to Michael Jeffrey Jordan from ESPN.
“[ESPN] had set up an event that was a Michael Jordan vs. Michael Jordan kind of deal, and ESPN was doing all the comparisons between me and MJ,” Jordan said. “Stuart Scott would show me missing a shot and then show [Michael Jeffrey Jordan] making a shot.”
It’s never easy sharing a name with a player many regard as the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, winner of six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. But even with The Last Dance documentary filling up Twitter feeds, Jordan — who played at Penn from 1996 to 2000 — embraces the publicity and expectations that come with his name.
“When I was younger, it used to bother me, and I wore No. 13 for a while in high school,” Jordan said. “Then one year, the guy who wore No. 23 graduated, and all my teammates were pushing me to wear No. 23, and I finally gave in and started to embrace it.”
Jordan, who grew up in the Philadelphia area playing high school basketball at Abington Friends, committed to Penn in 1996. He was part of a recruiting class that had big shoes to fill with the graduation of Jerome Allen, Ira Bowman, and Matt Maloney, who all went on to play in the NBA.
“They won 45 straight Ivy League games, which is extremely impressive even though the League wasn’t as competitive top-to-bottom back then,” Jordan said. “I remember hearing a story about how Ira [Bowman] ripped off a sink after their streak snapped at Dartmouth. It was intimidating to try and fill those shoes, but we came in wanting to keep it going.”
The Quakers struggled at the beginning of Jordan’s career, as Princeton went 28-0 in Ivy play from 1996 to 1998.
“Those guys at Princeton were freshmen getting beat up on by Ira [Bowman], Matt [Maloney], and Jerome [Allen], but when we played them, they were really good as juniors and seniors, and ranked No. 8 in the country,” Jordan said.
They even managed to topple Penn, 50-49, after coming back from a 13-40 deficit in a game known as “Black Tuesday.” Yet, even though the Red and Blue lost, it served as a turning point in Jordan’s career.
“At the time, that game was a really hard game to lose,” said coach Steve Donahue, who was an assistant at Penn from 1990 to 2000. “That team was resilient though, and it says a lot about a team if you can turn around and win 21 straight Ivy games. Black Tuesday was MJ’s class’ last conference loss.”
Jordan graduated in 2000 with a degree in sociology, but he was intent on continuing his playing career. Jordan tried out unsuccessfully for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics, so he moved to Europe. In 12 years overseas, Jordan played for 16 teams across Spain, Latvia, France, and other European countries, as well as Venezuela.
“When [Jordan] graduated [from] Penn, there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to keep playing,” said Matt Langel, who played at Penn with Jordan and currently is the head coach at Colgate. “You can go do pretty much anything with a degree from Penn at any time in your life, but you’ve only got a small window to play professional basketball.”
When asked about his experience overseas, Jordan stressed that the transition was easy coming from Penn.
“Everyone I’d meet would tell me that I was the ‘most European’ American they’d ever met,” Jordan said. “We played a really unselfish style of basketball at Penn, and that translated really well over to German and Spanish teams.”
Jordan retired from playing basketball in 2011 and returned to the United States, where he reunited with Langel at Colgate, and became the assistant basketball coach in 2012.
“Overseas, one of my teammates had a brother who was about to leave his coaching position at Colgate,” Jordan said. “At that time, I was ready to start coaching, and me and Matt have been friends for a long time, so I was fortunate enough to get a position so fast.”
n the past two years, the Raiders have won back-to-back Patriot League championships, making an NCAA tournament appearance in 2019. Langel credits Jordan with playing a huge part in Colgate’s recent success.
Jordan may not have had a storied NBA basketball career, but his legacy at Penn still shines today.
“He is one of the best competitors I’ve ever coached,” Donahue said. “We’re proud of our Michael Jordan.”