When Jeff Jordan takes to the court as freshman player No. 13 with the University of Illinois basketball team, expect an immediate hush to fall over the crowd – and all eyes to turn to him.
But his father, who only happens to be unsurpassed hoop legend Michael Jordan, says that this is the moment for which he and Jeff’s mother, Michael’s ex-wife Juanita, have long prepared their son.
“The thing that we have tried to tell Jeff is that you set your own expectations, you know?” Michael Jordan, 44, told Matt Lauer Friday on NBC’s Today show. “And if you’re happy, that’s all that matters. You’re never going to make everybody happy.”
First and foremost, the elder Jordan says, “I want him to be his own person, you know? I want him to enjoy his life, whatever he chooses to be that … If you play basketball, you’re a doctor, you’re a lawyer, whatever – I’m gonna support you with the love and every effort, every inch of my body.”
From his own perspective, young (and 6’1″) Jordan, 18, says of living in the long, long shadow of his six-time NBA champ father (who’s 6’6″): “I guess the way I’ve been dealing with it since high school is just, you got to put it aside. Since I was young and playing basketball, every time I had a problem with expectations or people looking up and thinking I’m supposed to be somebody I’m not, I always came to my parents first.”
“He wants to be a basketball player, but he wants to do it on his own terms, which is all cool for me,” Michael Jordan said of his son. “The thing that we have tried to tell Jeff is that you set your own expectations. By no means in this world can you ever live up to someone else’s expectations of who you are.”
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Jeff Jordan – who grew up in suburban Highland Park, Ill., near to where his father was racking up victories for the Chicago Bulls – adds: “I didn’t realize who I was until probably second grade, third grade. Kids never really brought it up that much. I graduated from eighth grade in a class of, like, 30. The community wasn’t really that big on popular culture. So growing up there, it wasn’t too bad.”
That is, until Jeff started finding himself the subject of enormous interest – on the front page of the newspaper’s sports section as soon as he was a freshman who began playing on the sophomore team of the private Loyola Academy.
“I think that was the first time I was really shocked by who I was and how big it was,” he said. “That was definitely the time where it really hit me all at once.” Chimed in his dad: “He wanted to go kind of underneath the radar, which is very tough. But he wants to be his own person, which I admire.”
Jeff Jordan is a psychology major at his college and plays as a guard on his team. He has a younger brother, Marcus, and a sister, Jasmine. Of their parents’ divorce after 17 years of marriage (and which became final last December), Jeff said, “It was hard. I could see it coming a little bit more than my younger brother and my younger sister, but it was hard for all of us.”
Added Michael: “But he was very mature about it.”
Michael and Jeff on the Court
For the record, Lauer asked Jeff if he’s actually ever beaten his dad when the two have played basketball together.
“Yes,” Jeff responded. “I’ll put it on the record. Yes. We played.”
“Ask him how many times,” interjected his father.
“Okay,” said Jeff. “But we don’t play that much.”