CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Justin Jordan shoots jump shots alone inside the chilly gym at Waddell Language Academy on a November morning.
He’s more than an hour from opening the Charlotte Hoops Challenge with his Davidson Day (Charlotte, N.C.) squad against Cuthbertson (Waxhaw, N.C.) and already he’s worked up a sweat.
“I’ve got to work hard for everything on the court,” said Jordan, a senior combo guard. “I’m not one of those guys that things come easy for.”
Not even if his uncle is widely regarded as the greatest basketball player that ever played the game.
“Me being Michael Jordan’s nephew just adds to the pressure,” Justin said. “I don’t think it’s fair, but I’ve accepted it. It’s just something that I try not to think about.”
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Justin’s primary focus is making the transition from role player on last year’s team to star, go-to guy this season. Last year, Justin averaged five points per game as the Patriots' sixth man, now he’s been asked to take on the brunt of the scoring load, set teammates up, defend the opposing team’s best player and become the team’s vocal leader.
“It’s certainly a lot to ask,” Patriots coach Joel Justus said. “I could only imagine that having Michael Jordan as your uncle can be pretty daunting, but he handles it well. It’s not something he ever talks about really. He doesn’t get caught up in trying to prove that he’s worthy of that last name.”
Still, the hecklers and naysayers abound.
After Michael Jordan walked in midway through the first quarter of Justin’s game against Cuthbertson on Nov. 23, all eyes were intently focused on Justin.
Fans made remarks about everything from his Air Jordan sneakers to the vintage MJ pull-up jumper that Justin drained a few times during the game. The Patriots lost to Cuthbertson, 79-46.
“I’m not my uncle,” said Justin, who is averaging 12 points per game this season. “I know people know that, but they can’t help but to compare because, well, he’s my uncle. I would like to say my game resembles my uncle’s game, but people would just take that too wrong. I actually play more like my dad. He taught me everything.”
Larry Jordan, a 5-foot-8 point guard, played in the World Basketball League for the Chicago Express in the late 1980s. Justin is 6-foot-2 with a streaky jump shot. He’s quick and gets into the lane fairly easily, but doesn’t have Michael’s explosive hops.
“Everyone wants to see if I can fly like him,” Justin said. “I don’t have it like he did.”
What Justin does have is a watered down version of Michael’s competitive edge. It’s evident when he talks about the times when he's beaten Michael one-on-one.
“I definitely have given him a few L’s,” Justin said. “I don’t think he’d admit it, but he knows. The thing about him is, no matter what, he has to end with a win. So sometimes we’re there playing for a while.”
Justus said that he helps Justin deflect the “famous uncle pressure” by “keeping him focused on what I need him to do for this team.”
“All of that other stuff we don’t talk about,” Justus said. “Those are things you can’t control. He’s had that last name for 17 years, and it’s not going anywhere.”
Still, Justin said he “prefers” situations where he’s identified as Michael’s nephew.
“I mean there are definitely a lot of perks that come with being Michael Jordan’s nephew,” Justin said. “I’d rather have that than not have it. But it’s important for me to create my own lane. I want to make it in basketball on my own.”
So far that looks promising.
Justin already has a basketball scholarship offer from Navy and interest from VMI and Brown.
“I’ve got some options and I hope to get more offers throughout the season,” Justin said. “It’s all about improving every game. That’s all I want to do is continue to get better.”
His uncle will make sure of that.
When asked what he thought Michael would say about the lopsided loss, Justin laughed and shook his head.
“He’s not gonna like this,” Justin said. “You probably know that he doesn’t like to lose, right? He’ll point out everything I did wrong. He’s my biggest critic. Him and my dad. They ride me, but they tell me what I did well too. It’s all to make me better, and I’m with that. If I can go out and play my best every game and leave it all on the court, I’m happy. That’s all I want. It may not always be what people want to see, but they’ve got to respect it.”
No matter who his uncle is.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY