Finally Famous

by September 12, 2011


Originally published in KICKS 14

by Aggrey Sam / @csnbullsinsider / Portrait courtesy of adidas

In the case of Eric Gordon, what you see is what you get. The Los Angeles Clippers guard, now a vet of three NBA seasons, has always been that way, whether he’s directly in the spotlight or lurking in the shadows. Just check the track record.

Seemingly doing it since he shed the stroller and could walk on his own, which presumably happened first on a Naptown court, wherever Gordon plays he manages to get buckets. From his high-scoring days at Indianapolis’ North Central HS—where he dropped 50 a couple times as a senior and settled for 43 in a nationally televised game against Michael Jordan’s sons’ team with His Airness in the stands— to his lone, tumultuous year at Indiana University and now with the Clips, where he’s paired with Blake Griffin to form one of the most entertaining and versatile tandems in the League. But it also feels like he’s been playing the background for just as long.

Despite Gordon’s Swiss Army knife package of an explosive first step, enough bunnies to be in All-Star Weekend’s Dunk Contest (although he’s much more of a game dunker), a pure stroke with unlimited range (that’s how they make ’em in the Hoosier State) and a frame that looks ready to play strong safety in the NFL, he doesn’t get that League-wide shine, even though he plays with one of the most exciting players in the NBA. Again, nothing new for him.

“I try to think of myself as one of the better guards out there, but it’s all about whatever people think,” says Gordon, in a laconic midwestern drawl that belies his on-court intensity. “All I worry about is whether I can get the job done and help the team in any kind of way.”

Going back to his days as an underclassman prep star in a hoops-crazed state, Gordon took the back seat to the likes of fellow future pros Greg Oden, Mike Conley and even Josh McRoberts in AAU ball before pairing up with reigning League MVP Derrick Rose in his final season on the circuit—forming arguably the best backcourt the summer’s ever seen—and while EJ’s (Eric Junior) scoring prowess and mature game had him equal or higher to Pooh Rose in the national rankings, his game didn’t have quite the hype as the more exciting Windy City native.

When he hit the college scene—following a wild recruiting saga that saw him receive death threats after backing out of a commitment to Illinois in order to attend his home state’s flagship school—he put in work from the jump, averaging 20.9 ppg in the rugged Big Ten. His efforts, though, were overshadowed by the overblown phone-call scandal and subsequent dismissal of Coach Kelvin Sampson.

Upon arrival in the L, the No. 7 pick in the ’08 NBA Draft did what he always does, averaging a solid 16.1 ppg as a rook and following that up with 16.9 ppg in his second pro campaign. But playing for a typically sad-sack Clippers squad, the numbers didn’t exactly make headlines.

With the arrival of Griffin—who missed the entire ’09-10 season due to a knee injury—the “second” team in the City of Angels, while not yet a powerhouse or even a legit Playoff contender, showed signs of promise, going from 19 wins his debut campaign to 29 victories his second season and last year, 32. Obviously, that had a lot to do with Griffin’s impact, but what went overlooked by many—see a common theme yet?—was Gordon’s breakout season. “Every Lottery player goes to a team that doesn’t have a good record, and you always try to find a way to pick up that winning mentality in that organization, so I think we’re starting to find that and it’s good to be here,” Gordon asserts. “We should be able to get it going and be in the Playoffs next year.”

If it wasn’t for a wrist injury that caused him to miss 26 games, Gordon should have gotten at least some Love in the Most Improved Player balloting. Check his stats: 22.3 ppg, 4.4 dimes, 45 percent from the field, 82.5 percent from the charity stripe. If that doesn’t scream All-Star in the very near future, even in the loaded West, nothing does.

“Last year I tried to be a leader, help the team score and be a big playmaker,” says Gordon, who admits making the Western Conference All-Star Team is one of his goals for next season (“and hopefully many more”). “We saw something special in us last season, so we’re trying to get together and build more chemistry with the young players we have.

“The key for us, since we’re a young team, is to keep being physical, stay healthy and play hard every game,” continues the sharpshooter, who says his summer with the Gold medal-winning USA Basketball team in Turkey not only gave him confidence but helped him “learn more” about himself; playing in next summer’s Olympics in London is another goal of his. “This past year was our only year playing together and we definitely needed experience.”