I Was a Prison Basketball Superstar
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because success is a many splendored thing.
By Ron Jordan, as told to Seth Ferranti
I played a lot of games growing up in Harlem. You can be a somebody or a nobody. But basketball was a part of life for me. I came into it because my uncle was playing it, my father was playing it. Everything was always basketball. My game reflected what I was doing on the streets. That’s how I played. If I was a badass gangster dude running around with guns, then that’s how I played on the court. Not that I played dirty or shot elbows. Not that. But if someone did it to me, it was on.
People say I play like Allen Iverson and Shaq mixed together, with a little Vinnie Johnson. Then I got shot and I lost a bunch of weight and when I came back, I was jumping out of the gym. With the jump shot I had that was already out of this world, my game really took off. When people saw me play, they wanted to take me to different courts to play for money. They had certain tournaments that people were trying to get in like Gauchos, Riverside, playing with people who were going to colleges and even pros.
They’ve been calling me Ron Jordan ever since I was 14. It started out because just like everyone else in the world, I wanted to be like Mike. I was hustling, making five grand a day, and wore nothing but Jordans. That’s where it started, from me liking him. I used to dunk like him and even walk like him. People to this day think that’s my real name. Everywhere I went I busted ass on the court. That’s where that legend grew from. By the time I was 16, I was playing with grown-ass men who wouldn’t let a kid play with them, but I did and everybody talked about it.
I was already nice before I went into prison. The only thing that happened when I went into prison was that I got to play ball more. I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. I played ball on the street, but I didn’t play like I played in jail. Whatever prison I went to, dudes saw me play. My homeboys would be like, “That’s Ron Jordan, he knows how to play, grab him on your team.” It started in the state system when I did a 1 to 3. They knew I could ball. When I did my second bid up north, everyone already knew about me.
When I got a federal gun sentence, I was busting ass at FCI Otisville in New York, but going to FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey was where the legend really developed. I’d never seen or been in a prison that was something like that. It was the largest federal prison in the system. They ran basketball tournaments throughout the whole year — summer tournaments, winter tournaments — and it reminded me of home because they had music blasting and an emcee on the mic announcing the game. It made me feel like I had something to prove because no one could ever win or beat me. But it was a growing experience also, because I never listened to anyone telling me anything, especially about ball.
Nobody can guard me and I didn’t care. The only person who can guard me is a 500-pound dude who is faster than Iverson. And you’ll never find nobody like that. I would bust dude’s ass no matter what they said. Everybody always called me a nut because I wouldn’t pass the ball. But being in there and playing with the guys I played with, my game got better than it ever got before. That’s what made Fort Dix so special — being around the older guys who would talk to me and critique my game. That’s where I really learned basketball.
One person can’t guard me, let alone two people. I would take on whole teams — two, three, four at a time. And it’s not because I’m the best in the world. It’s because I’m confident about myself. If you’re small, you’re too weak. If you’re big, you’re too slow. I believe it’s because I only did bar, push-ups and dips. I never used weights when I worked out. I could move, I was explosive. Plus there was no shot that I didn’t like and nothing that I couldn’t do on the court.
Sixty-something points? Nothing new for me. I dropped 81 points, 76 points, and dropped 60-something 35 times or so in my life. Fifty-something probably hundreds of times. I probably averaged 40-something. What made those 60-something-point games so special when I was at Fort Dix was the 15 rebounds and 13 assists that went with it. Every time I did, it was like a triple-double. Whereas before, it wasn’t a triple-double; it was just me scoring on someone. When I scored 60-something points at Fort Dix, the basket seemed bigger. Everything seemed to come together when I started passing the ball. Nobody knew what I was going to do.
That’s a part of my life I’ll always cherish. There’s nothing I can do about changing the past and I wish I didn’t go to prison, but I remember fondly that time in there playing basketball. I really learned a lot, not only about basketball but about life. I wish I could have capitalized more on it when I got out and made a career out of basketball, but when I came home I had a child. I had to take care of her, pay bills and work. There was no time for basketball, but the legend lives on.
- Ron Jordan, as told to Seth Ferranti, OZY Author Contact Ron Jordan, as told to Seth Ferranti