By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 13, 2004
On a black nylon cord around his neck, Anthony Jordan wears a powerful tool.
Amid the squeaks of expensively endorsed athletic shoes, the shrill blow of Jordan’s whistle can be heard on any given night in front of a packed house of fervent basketball fans. And that whistle can change sporting history forever.
As an NBA official, Jordan is a man who sometimes bears the brunt of a coach’s blazing anger or the jeers of 25,000 angry fans. But beneath his cool exterior is a man with a deep Catholic faith and an intense respect for the game he has loved since he was a little boy.
Jordan, who attends the Catholic Center at Atlanta University Center with his wife, Carla, grew up in Baton Rouge, La., the son of a former football star at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. A self-professed “jock,” Jordan played and found an interest in several sports, but dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps. But when he was in the fifth grade, his mother put the brakes on his dream.
“She refused to let me play football. She told me to pick another sport,” he said.
His mom was fearful that football was too violent a sport, as his father was constantly getting hurt while playing the game.
So Jordan chose basketball. Little did he know the game would become more than just a pastime. It would become his future.
He played basketball through high school, alternating various positions on the court.
“I guess I was pretty good, and our team was pretty good, but we never won the big game,” he said.
Jordan also played baseball and ran track, and was involved in student government.
But it was basketball that would stick with the young student the longest.
He went on to attend Southern University in his hometown of Baton Rouge. It was there that he found his other passion—teaching.
He started substituting in elementary and junior high schools but soon was itchy for a new start.
“I just wanted to go places,” he said.
Eventually, in 1999, he ended up in Atlanta.
At the time, the then 25-year-old found an easy fit in the Southern city, but it was a time of transition.
“It was my first time really being on my own. It was a big change,” he said.
He began teaching history at Avondale High School in DeKalb County. In addition to teaching, he served as the assistant junior varsity basketball coach and the head swimming and track coach. It was also at Avondale that he met his wife, Carla, an English teacher. The two are expecting their first child in July.
“I loved it there,” he said. “To this day, I’m still very affected by my experiences there.”
But he was also influenced by an experience that occurred even earlier in his life. In college, Jordan’s best friend served as a high school basketball official. To pick up some extra money for school, Jordan joined him.
“I think before I started doing this, I may have said a few times that all refs were cheaters, but then seeing all the hard work that goes into it, I realized it was truly a craft, and these guys have a ton of integrity,” he said. “I mean, I was yelled at and chased out of gyms. It has taught me so much how to deal with things.”
From the high school level, Jordan was seen by a referee scout and recruited to officiate at games for the SEC.
“I was literally 21 years old when I worked my first SEC game,” he said. “It was in Fayetteville, Ark., and I walked out in front of 20,000 people thinking, ‘what have I done?’ But it was awesome. I had that excitement, that same exhilaration that I got from playing the game.”
His high point, he said, was officiating at the SEC tournament. But he didn’t know that the best was yet to come, and that soon he would be on the floor among the best of the best, his childhood heroes.
Jordan was recruited by an NBA scout and began attending training camps, which he attended for several summers. It was while he was teaching at Avondale that he got the call to work full-time for the NBA. The NBA had courted him and trained him for eight years, and before he knew that he would make a career out of it, he did one important thing.
“I got on my knees and prayed, ‘Lord, just take me as far as you want me to go.’ I didn’t know what to ask for,” he said.
It is an elite group, made up of only 58 men and one woman. The average age of the officials is 44. Thirty-one-year-old Jordan remembers the first time he shared the court with the same guys he had only seen on TV.
“Of course, I was enamored by certain players. I remember the first time I officiated a game with Michael Jordan,” he said. “But I had to tell myself that I’m not a fan, I’m not a player. I’m in charge of the integrity of this game. I can’t lose that focus.”
The schedule for an official is a daunting one. They arrive in the game day city the night before the game. Those that will officiate the next night’s game meet in the morning to discuss the upcoming game. They talk about the personalities involved in the match and how they would apply to the game, trying to anticipate any possible problems. They also have a Web site that they must go to and take a weekly test, where they watch a video clip and make a call.
After the game, the officials meet again, watch a tape of the game, discuss any problems or mistakes and send a tape to their boss.
“That’s the side that most people don’t know about,” he said. “We make mistakes. We’re not perfect. But I guarantee that if we make a mistake, we are the first to know and the last to forget. We are always in search of the perfect game. That’s the goal of every official.”
Jordan also takes his Catholic faith with him wherever he travels.
“Growing up Catholic, I was always taught, and I truly know, that everything in my life is touched by God,” he said. “I can’t do anything without praying.”
He tries to get home on Sundays to attend Mass with his wife at Lyke House, the Catholic Center at the Atlanta University Center, where he says Father Edward Branch, chaplain, has welcomed him and his wife with open arms.
“As soon as I walked in here, Father (Branch) just embraced me like I’d been a part of this community all my life.”
Jordan and his wife both serve as mentors to the AUC students, and back at Avondale, Jordan began a program called “Boyz II Men,” which is a mentoring group for young boys in all grades. He stays involved with the group to this day.
Deacon Fred Sambrone from the Lyke House said that the center is blessed to have the Jordans.
“You can just really feel that radiance of love and strong faith from this couple,” he said.
Despite entering into his third season as a full-time official, Jordan never experiences the boredom of a daily job where one can anticipate every day.
“I never get tired of stepping onto the floor and hearing my name called,” he said. “My wife teases me about my ego, and I guess I do have a certain pride about myself, because I think you have to. But when you’re yelled at and told you’re wrong, it can be pretty humbling.”
And Jordan hopes that those he comes into contact with will agree.
“I want to be known as a teacher and as a humble guy, a spiritual guy, a fun guy and a cool guy. That’s the most important thing,” he said. “I know that to whom much is given, much is expected, and that’s how I try to live my life.”