Michael Jordan’s oldest son kindly answers to Jeff, Jeffrey, @HeirJordan13 (on Twitter and Instagram) and “Bones.”
“That’s my family nickname,” he says. “Growing up I was really skinny.”
He is reliving those days while watching “The Last Dance,” the ESPN documentary series captivating Chicago sports fans.
The first episode featured 8-year-old Jeffrey sitting and dribbling a basketball with his left hand.
“Don’t mess up,” Michael tells him.
“Sounds about right,” Jeffrey says now, chuckling at the memory of his demanding dad.
Jeffrey, 31, works in digital innovation on the Jordan Brand. The six-year veteran of Nike Inc. lives in Oregon and is recently married.
During two interviews lasting nearly an hour, the former University of Illinois guard spoke of growing up in the shadow of a legend, the high point of his hoops life and his hopes for “The Last Dance.”
What’s your stock answer when someone asks what it was like to grow up as MJ’s son?
Normal. And it probably was normal to an extent. Relationship-wise, you’d go through your normal battles with your siblings, your mom, your dad, everything like that. But in a social aspect, it was far from normal or anything you could imagine.
Did your dad coach you much?
No, not at all. He was busy. Traveling a lot, obviously. We were blessed and fortunate to have somewhere to play at our house (an indoor court in Highland Park). That was our haven. (Younger brother) Marcus and I worked out with my dad one time. I was 17 or 18. We felt like we were in pretty good shape. We can do this; this is what we’ve been waiting for. It was brutal. I said: Now I understand why we don’t do this more often.
Did your dad exhibit any sympathy?
No, none whatsoever (laughs).
What do you remember from the Paris trip in 1997?
We had to decide who was going to ride on the team plane and who was going to ride with my mom on the Concorde. Marcus and I actually were battling for the Concorde. I flew with the team and met some of my idols. During the season we couldn’t go to the away games. My mom was a stickler. School was first and foremost.
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Scott Burrell joked about wanting to give you guys a hug after the win in Paris.
He was a huge jokester, kind of the class clown of the squad. He was a really good dude and incorporated us like we were part of the team.
So when your dad says, ‘Don’t mess up,’ does that reflect his perfectionism?
Yes, and it’s part of who I am as well. Part of it is being the oldest. I'm driven to clear the path and be the best I possibly can. I’ll be 32 this year and I’ve come to accept that the due diligence is how it will be for the rest of my life. I'm good with it, man. The way he was with me back then, I probably wouldn't have it any other way.
Did your mom ever suggest you guys not wear No. 23?
I was always searching for a new number or a way to differentiate myself. In high school (at Loyola Academy), switching the 2 and the 3 was enough. I didn’t find out my mom played high school basketball until I was leaving (for Illinois), and 13 was her number. She was born on Friday the 13th and always had a feeling of luck around the number. Marcus was always a big proponent of 5 — the 2 plus 3.
You had scholarship offers but opted to walk on at Illinois. Why?
My first scholarship offer was Iowa State. But my dad was by the book and didn’t want me to be committed at an early age. He felt like that was almost heresy of the game (laughs).
I visited Valpo and Indiana, but it was more low to mid-major (schools that offered). I had it in me to play at the high-major level. We were scrimmaging against the top talent in Chicago, and I felt I’d be able to make it and find a team. I felt I could make a name for myself at U of I.
You earned an academic scholarship?
Yes, and then Coach (Bruce) Weber put me on an athletic scholarship the second half of my sophomore year and throughout my junior year. I transferred to UCF and spent some time with my bro. I’m happy getting those two different types of experiences in college. It was the best of all worlds.
Did fellow students at Illinois leave you alone, or were they constantly coming up to you?
It was a little bit of everything you can imagine. One of the perks of being an athlete is you have a group of guys who embrace you and help shape what you become. I had a group of enforcers who were 6-7 to 6-10.
You had your own Charles Oakleys?
Exactly. I had my Oakleys, my (Ron) Harpers, my (Scottie) Pippens. My friends. Hanging out and kicking it. Definitely ran into a lot of characters throughout college. But all good times.
Were fans of other Big Ten teams respectful?
They were for the most part. Michigan State was hilarious. One game they had life-size (cutouts) of MJ. And the “Who’s your daddy?” chant was everywhere. The most ruthless was Indiana, if only for the Illinois-Indiana rivalry. But for the most part, the Big Ten fans were always respectful. They just love basketball. I loved to play at Northwestern against (Lincoln Park alumnus) Mike Thompson. Juice is a homey.
Did you almost go to Northwestern?
That could have been one of the early scholarship possibilities. But at the time I had to obey and listen to the GOAT, the master, and make sure I was doing the right thing. But, yes, it would have been a dream to play with Juice.
What was your all-time best moment on the court?
We had games in the summer (in Highland Park) after my senior year of high school with friends and AAU teammates. We’d invite the best of Chicago … Eric Gordon, Evan Turner. It grew to Jamal Crawford and the NBA guys coming out. It was amazing, basketball for the love of the game.
You were in the front for your dad’s Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2009. What did you think when he said to you and your siblings: “You guys have a heavy burden. I wouldn’t want to be you guys because of all the expectations”?
That could not be more true, honestly. I’m glad he said it. I’m glad he recognizes it too. It’s something my brother and my sister always knew and something my two younger sisters (with Michael’s second wife, Yvette) will come to learn and appreciate. We’re all in a unique situation.
Was that speech quintessential MJ?
Oh, yeah. Honestly it was pretty tame compared to the core, the raw MJ.
You and Marcus were interviewed for “The Last Dance”?
Yeah, around October. I haven’t seen any edits, any cuts, any episodes. Hope they got my good side.
You’re like us, watching new episodes each Sunday night. What do you hope the documentary will reveal?
That there are some things that come with being the best at what you do. The glory and the rings are front and center. A lot of the other stuff has been glossed over.
I also hope it reveals the normalcy. My dad’s inhuman at basketball and (made a) gross amount of money. But he’s human. He has an enormous amount of compassion and empathy for people. He makes mistakes but, like everyone else, does the best he can.