Michael Jordan is possibly not who you perceive he is. He is not a six-time NBA champion who has been playing for the Chicago Bulls. He is not the Charlotte Hornets leader. He is not the star of “The Last Dance.” by ESPN.

More than Just a Name The Story of Penn's Own Michael Jordan
(Photo from Penn Athletics)

But the qualified shooting guard who wore No. 23 was still Michael Jordan. And his basketball prowess has been impressive enough to make comparisons to ESPN’s Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
“[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.”

Sharing a name with a player many consider as the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, winner of six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls is never easy. But even with the documentary The Last Dance filling up Twitter feeds, Jordan — who played from 1996 to 2000 at Penn — embodies the publicity and pressure that comes 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 Abington Friends neighborhood of Philadelphia playing basketball in high school, committed to Penn in 1996. He was member of a recruiting class that had big shoes to fill with Jerome Allen, Ira Bowman, and Matt Maloney’s graduation, all of whom 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.”

Michael Jordan
Credit: Alana Kelly

At the start of Jordan’s career, the Quakers struggled, 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 overthrow Penn, 50-49, after returning from a 13-40 deficit in a game known as “Black Tuesday.” Yet, despite losing the Red and Blue, 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 with a degree in sociology in 2000 but he was eager to pursue his career in sports. Jordan tried the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics unsuccessfully so he moved to Europe. Overseas in 12 years, Jordan has played for 16 teams throughout 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 questioned about his overseas experience, Jordan emphasized that the transition from Penn had been easy.

“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.”

In 2011, Jordan retired from playing basketball and returned to the United States where he met Langel at Colgate, and in 2012 became the assistant basketball coach.

“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 I and Matt have been friends for a long time, so I was fortunate enough to get a position so fast.”

The Raiders have won back-to – back Patriot League championships in the last two years, making an appearance on the NCAA tournament in 2019. Langel credits Jordan with playing an immense part in the recent success of Colgate.

Jordan may not have had a storied career in NBA basketball, but his legacy at Penn is still shining today.

“He is one of the best competitors I’ve ever coached,” Donahue said. “We’re proud of our Michael Jordan.”

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