Aaron Gordon arrived at the podium, seated in front of a room full of reporters at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and wearing a fresh Orlando Magic cap after the team surprised experts by selecting him with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Fighting back the emotions of the moment, Gordon said he had been working for this his entire life, all 18 years of it.
In fact, Gordon had been dreaming of sliding on an NBA jersey since he was 4 years old, practicing his between-the-legs dribble by high-kicking over the basketball.
He appeared ready for the night in every way when a stylist worked on the finishing touches of his indigo Italian wool custom suit by Élevée, complimented by a blue and black tie over an ice-blue shirt as he listened to “Juice” by Chance the Rapper in his final pre-draft moments.
“I wanted to play in college,” he said. “But that wasn’t my biggest aspiration.”
The 6-foot-9 Gordon, who played one year at Arizona, had been plotting his escape from the collegiate ranks ever since starting at Archbishop Mitty High back in San Jose, Calif. Gordon’s brother plays pro ball in Italy, his sister played collegiately at Harvard, and his father, Ed Gordon, was a star player at San Diego State. But he idolized Magic Johnson growing up (never mind the line in “Juice” that says “Till you realize everybody in the world hates the Lakers.”)
Gordon isn’t quite “Showtime” Lakers. He is known as a defensive stopper. He made his name by his incredible athleticism, his ability to run, jump, and defend every position on the basketball court. The questions were always about his shooting, both from the field and the free throw line, neither of which was above 50%.
That was what Gordon needed to prove before Draft Night and that’s why some folks were shocked when the Magic scooped him at No. 4. But it wasn’t just his shooting that Gordon has looked to improve. At 225 pounds, he still needs to add some weight. Most experts consider Gordon a “tweener.” His body frame is caught in between the athleticism a small forward needs and the strength it takes to bang with the league’s top power forwards. It has been a challenge, Gordon says. He has been eating around six times a day while his metabolism torches every meal. Gordon said he entered the draft at just 3% body fat.
Jay Bilas, ESPN’s foremost authority on college basketball, called Gordon “not a good or a great athlete. He’s a world-class athlete.” And Gordon isn’t selling himself as anything different. He told that same room of reporters that he is an energy player, a match-up problem, and a “character teammate.”
On that same podium he paused to think about the moment – the moment he wanted just 18 years for: “What I’ve done to get here, that’s never going to fade away,” he said. “That’s who I am.”