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76ers' Eddie Jordan accepts challenge

Eddie Jordan watched his first professional basketball game at the Spectrum. He grew up a few hours south, in Washington.

Eddie Jordan downplayed the need to add shooters. “You don’t have to have two to three guys shooting outside,” he said. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eddie Jordan downplayed the need to add shooters. “You don’t have to have two to three guys shooting outside,” he said. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

Eddie Jordan watched his first professional basketball game at the Spectrum.

He grew up a few hours south, in Washington.

He played his college basketball about 90 minutes north, at Rutgers.

And he owns a house not far up I-95, in Princeton.

Much of Jordan's life has transpired near, but not quite in, Philadelphia.

Until now.

Yesterday at the Wachovia Center, after an 18-day search, 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski officially announced that Jordan would be the team's next head coach.

Jordan, 54, didn't dribble around the impending task of turning the Sixers from an early-exit playoff team into a June contender. He leaned into the microphone and said: "This is the ultimate challenge to me in sports. In sports, this is it."

Jordan said he had been charged with "restoring the tradition you guys are used to in Philadelphia."

He was referring to the city's passion for its teams, its demand for the best, and its daily brand of accountability.

"If I can make it here, then I can go to Florida and retire like Billy Cunningham," Jordan continued, speaking of the former Sixers player and coach who led the team to its last NBA title, in 1983.

Jordan wasn't forced to wait until his first game - nearly four months from now - to feel the pressure about which he spoke.

Since news of his guaranteed three-year, $8.1 million deal leaked late Friday, the public response, including that on radio and television, has questioned how Jordan, whose career head coaching record is 230-288, will create a championship environment.

Jordan said that the "proof would be in the pudding," that he would win over doubters "when they see our team perform, playing unselfish, smart basketball."

Jordan's brand of basketball will be the Princeton offense, a read-and-react motion system he ran with his previous two teams - the Sacramento Kings, from 1996 to '98, and Washington Wizards, from 2003 to '08.

That offense, and how Jordan demonstrated its implementation in a four-hour follow-up interview, persuaded Stefanski to offer Jordan the clipboard and whistle.

"We came away, 'Wow, this is the guy for us,' " Stefanski said.

Stefanski also addressed the implication that he hired Jordan because of the friendship they developed while working together for the New Jersey Nets, Jordan as an assistant coach, Stefanski as an assistant general manager.

"I had a personal relationship with Eddie Jordan when I was in New Jersey. . . . But there was no 'Eddie Jordan is going to be the head coach and nobody else,' " Stefanski said.

The Sixers' roster - which is rich in some areas, such as slashing scorers, and deficient in others, such as outside shooting - had no all-stars last season, and its acquired centerpiece, forward Elton Brand, suffered season-ending injuries in successive campaigns.

Jordan downplayed the need for outside shooting, even though the Sixers finished the previous two seasons last in the NBA in three-point-shooting percentage.

"You don't have to have two to three guys shooting outside," Jordan said. "Obviously, we'd all like to have perimeter shooting, but it's about development and style of play to generate points."

Jordan said his offense would turn at least one, possibly two, and maybe even three current Sixers into all-stars.

"I think we have two superstars already, and you'll see that this upcoming season," said Jordan, presumably referring to Brand and forward Andre Iguodala.

Jordan said he spoke with Brand via telephone and met with Iguodala, guard Willie Green, and center Jason Smith, all of whom attended yesterday's news conference.

"It's small things that make great teams great - really paying attention to detail," said Iguodala, who added that "a lot of our weaknesses are his strengths."

"I think what I'll be able to bring is extending the defense," said Smith, who is recovering from a knee injury. "In me you have a big guy who can shoot, so the defense won't know if I'm going to shoot, cut, or drive to the hoop."

Jordan declined to select any player as the key executor of the offense, saying it was a two-guard, two-forward, one-center attack in which the burden was shared.

Jordan said that Brand would play both forward and center. He also said that while he hoped the Sixers would retain point guard Andre Miller, an unrestricted free agent - and would have to find a suitable replacement at the position if they didn't - the versatility of his offense could allow the sharing of the point-guard responsibilities between both guards.

"If Andre Miller talked to Jason Kidd about the offense, he would love it," Jordan said, referring to the point guard when both Jordan and Stefanski worked for the Nets.

"There's a formula for each team to win," Jordan said. "And we'll find our formula."

Dalembert's situation. Before last season's trading deadline, starting center Samuel Dalembert asked for a trade, a request Stefanski was unable to fulfill.

Because Jordan's offense runs equally through all five players, Dalembert has been discussed as, perhaps, not possessing the needed skills.

"If he's in the locker room, we'll do our best to get him involved in the offense . . . If he can't accept that, then there are other alternatives," Jordan said.