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2016 Los Angeles Clippers Gameday 1

GOLD MEDAL on the team. “Point guards create plays for others. The way he rolls to the rim and commands so much attention, he gets everybody open shots.” As head coach Doc Rivers watched along from the stands at practice, he noticed everyone else witnessing what he does on a daily basis. As Rivers said, “DJ does what DJ does,” it’s just that this past summer he did it representing his country alongside some of the best athletes the U.S. has to offer. But Rivers, who was instrumental in Jordan’s development the last few years, isn’t satisfied yet. He’s seen the vast jumps Jordan’s made in a short amount of time. Why stop now? “I don’t know if it’s the ‘Summer of DeAndre,’” Rivers said. “But DJ is just coming into his own, and I think he still has a ceiling to get to.” RETURN HOME A month after Jordan won a gold medal in Rio, it might’ve been difficult to tell how much time had passed. The Clippers’ center patriotically donned a white T-shirt with a bald eagle and American flag emblazoned on the front and “USA” inscribed on the sleeve, wearing the same gold medal as he visited the Clippers’ business offices, letting every employee file in one-by-one to take pictures with him and the medal. Jordan, after all, understands the allure. The Clippers’ center rarely took the medal off in the days after stepping up to the Olympic podium Aug. 21 and, sandwiched between Lowry and Durant, getting it placed around his neck. He soaked in the moment, tilting back his body after receiving it and exclaiming, “Oh my God!” with a gregarious look and smile on his face. He stared down at the medal and studied it, as if he couldn’t believe what he was looking at. Then he chomped down on it, the same way a person might get pinched to ensure he or she isn’t dreaming. It wasn’t fantasy. “It was crazy,” Jordan recalled. “I thought about when we came together in New York for the first time as a team and the first practice, and when we first got to Rio. You think about everything. You think about the whole journey.” He understands the infatuation everyone else now has with that medal now that he’s returned home. He says everyone wants to wear it – including his son, who’s worn it and crawled around with it. “Everyone’s been a part of it and a part of helping me win a gold medal, so it’s cool,” Jordan said. With 7.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in eight games at the Olympics, including three starts, Jordan showed his fellow Olympians what the Clippers already knew about his game, and how it opens everyone and everything else up on the floor. He led the U.S. team with nine blocks and a 74 percent mark from the field, doing everything that made him a max player and one of the league’s top centers. Foes became friends, as Jordan’s Olympic experience turned him from a largely unheralded to merited star. But as his summer comes to a close, he won’t let those friendships deter from his competitiveness and what’s next, as the Clippers reconvene and his Olympic teammates once again become competitors, with the season getting under way. And Jordan returns with something extra, beyond the tangible medal he continues to cherish. NEXT STEP Doc Rivers is trying to come up with the right word. Maybe “swagger” isn’t it, so he uses “professional” to describe Jordan’s manner and demeanor as the Clippers go through training camp after a summer that started with a First Team All-NBA nod for Jordan and ended in Olympic gold. Ask Austin Rivers, though, and the former word is perfectly appropriate to describe the assertive way Jordan’s carrying himself after his successful Team USA stint. “It’s a confidence,” Austin said. “To do something only so many people have done, that kind of breeds a new type of swagger about yourself, and he has that. He’s just a beast.” After a summer Doc called the most important of Jordan’s career, it wouldn’t be a shock to see a different level of consistency – or “swagger,” or “professionality,” or whatever word one would prefer to use to describe the confident way Jordan carries himself and plays. In fact, Doc expects it. “I think seeing the work ethic of all the other players, being around them all those days, feeling what winning feels like, giving himself up for a team in a short period of time … I think all those things were great for DJ,” Rivers said. “I expect him, in some ways, to be the most improved this year because of the summer he had.” Jordan won’t deny the effect his incredible summer had on him. Of course, he’ll have physical memories of the Olympic journey, most notably the gold medal he took with him to training camp (he said he’ll get a case for it eventually to hang at his house). But what he gained from the experience goes beyond the palpable. It’s seeing how Durant and Anthony and other superstars worked every day. It’s learning lessons from a litany of experienced coaches, from head coach Mike Krzyzewski, to Boeheim, to Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams. “The leadership aspect of USA basketball has really helped me out a lot,” Jordan said. It’s also the feeling of being a key cog of something far bigger, and then getting it done. “That was an awesome experience,” Jordan said. “I’ll never forget that. I made so many cool friends on the team who I probably will hate for the next few months, but they’ll be my brothers for life. We did something together not a lot of people get to do.” When Jordan thinks back to some of his fondest memories from Team USA outside of actually winning the medal, he goes back to before the team ever took off Brazil. He thinks to the exhibition games and wearing a “USA” jersey in front of friends and family in Houston, then doing the same in front of fans in Los Angeles. “And getting booed in Golden State,” Jordan says with a grin, “that was awesome. It was all fun. The first practice we had, the last practice we had before the gold medal game, all those different things along the journey I still remember.” And, as Doc said, all of those experiences can only serve as a positive, as the head coach is seeing first-hand how confident and self-assured his center looks on the court. That presence demands respect. As Austin went on describing Jordan’s swagger, he told a story about a dunk Jordan pulled off that “only one or two people on the planet” could’ve finished, which preceded a Jordan block at the other end. He added that in addition to Jordan being in great shape from playing all summer, a few new post moves have also followed. It’s exactly the type of start Doc hoped for and continues to expect from a center he believes will continue to grow from a once-in-alifetime experience. “The light’s on,” Doc said, “and it’s just going to keep getting brighter.” 62 | CLIPPERS GAMETIME MAGAZINE


2016 Los Angeles Clippers Gameday 1
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