BLAKE SEBRING: Fort Wayne legend Walter Jordan still speaking up for his beliefs
Last week a story hit the national wires about San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich concerning the NBA celebrating Black History Month and saying, “We live in a racist country… And it’s always important to bring attention to it, even if it angers some people.”
The story hit home for Fort Wayne basketball legend Walter Jordan who helped Northrop win the 1974 state title, became an all-Big Ten player at Purdue and had a short NBA career.
“I have so much respect for anybody, not just Popovich, who is willing to speak on how he feels and is honest to a fault,” Jordan said by phone. “I respect anybody who can do that when it’s the right thing to do. It takes serious courage for a man in his position regardless of what someone else is going to think about it.”
Jordan always has an interesting perspective on issues. He was part of the first group of black students to be bused from his neighborhood Central High School to Northrop High School, he always hosted charity games and events here to help people, and now he lives in Atlanta where for 14 years he’s run a nonprofit youth summer travel basketball league. He considers it his ministry.
Unlike many today, he doesn’t speak in soundbites or read off talking points, and he’s not just somebody shooting his mouth off to see who will give him attention. He actually lives the life, mentoring young men every day and hosting yearly leadership conferences. He regularly speaks about topics that interest him on his Facebook page and in public, and he’s sometimes blunt and doesn’t hold back.
As an example, last year he wrote about how he didn’t think it was right for anyone, especially young African-Americans to use the “N-word” even if it wasn’t meant as a derogatory term. It sent the wrong message, he wrote, as if it were acceptable in any form because that serves to lessen the historical meaning. It should never become even the least bit acceptable or encouraged, he said.
About a year ago, he received a phone call from a mother letting him know her 15-year-old son had been called the slur that day while at school.
“That’s the first time?” Jordan responded. “Good.”
“What do you mean?” the woman asked.
“Now that we have that out of the way — because eventually it was going to happen — what are we going to teach him about it? What is he going to learn from this? It’s unfortunate, but it’s going to happen.”
The point was, as Jordan said, there are ignorant people everywhere. The best things about this world are the people, and sometimes the worst things about this world are the people. Are we going to teach our children to escalate the problems so that maybe our children end up in jail or dead, or are we going to teach them how to handle stuff so they can come home safely? There are too many kids and adults who have made horrible 50-second decisions, which ended up costing them 50 years of their life.
“It really hurts me when I see how some people who just complain, don’t have a mind of their own and the courage to speak out on things that are wrong,” he said last week. “Our kids are watching us! It takes me back to my neighborhood days when we were growing up and if you were out of line you were out of line. If someone in your neighborhood saw you doing something wrong, your mom and dad knew about it before you got home.”
Over the next few weeks, he’s got a trip home planned to watch his first state tournament game since the Bruins won in Bloomington in 1974. He’s also going to Purdue for a game.
Jordan turned 62 on Monday but says he feels better than ever because he’s working with young people who give him positive energy, respect and hope. He loves talking to them about courage, their dreams and developing their own leadership skills and their own beliefs by listening to the right people.
They are curious, though at the same time trying to understand what’s happening, and what the adults in the world are doing.
Now he enjoys working with youth more than adults, Jordan said. His parents taught their kids right from wrong, not to care about what others thought of them, love over hate and to stand up for what they believed in. They certainly weren’t taught hate, and if he didn’t speak up, that’s what his parents would be upset with.
Because of the life he has lived, Jordan can speak with authority and conviction. He’s not on the outside looking in as a critic, and he also doesn’t care if people like what he says because he’d prefer to be respected for being honestly who he is. He’s not looking for approval but to start and continue the conversation he believes we need to have.
“You wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t say something about those things,” he said. “We all have to stand up for what we believe in. We know what’s right and wrong, and sometimes it’s just about being a decent human being. At the end of the day, if all you can say about me is that I was a pretty good basketball player, I have truly lived an empty, sad and unfulfilled life! I am a product of my environment, my struggles, my victories, defeats, mistakes, experiences and, most importantly, my growth. I am so blessed to have been raised by two of the most-loving, God-fearing and wisest people who ever lived (Willie and Laura Jordan)!
“I wish we could stop pointing fingers at each other and sit down and have a decent conversation about what really is God’s plan and purpose for all of us.”
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.