Too Old at 33? Ben Gordon Grinds in the D-League for One Shot at NBA Comeback

Yaron WeitzmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2017

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 28:  Ben Gordon #7 of the Chicago Bulls signals a play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the game at Staples Center on January 28, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The Bulls won 95-75. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Have you seen the highlights? If not, you should check them out. There's Ben Gordon, yes, that Ben Gordon, the former University of Connecticut star, and No. 3 overall pick, and Sixth Man of the Year, and 20-points-per-game scorer, running circles around a plethora of players 10 years his junior.

He still has that quick-trigger rainbow jumper, the off-the-dribble shakes and one-handed floater. His 6'3" frame is as chiseled as ever.

Gordon is 33 now. He hasn't played in an NBA game since March 2015 and hasn't been part of an NBA team since the Golden State Warriors waived him the following preseason. He spent last season on the couch of his Harlem home, waiting for other NBA teams to call.

None did.

"Being able to still do something at a high level and not being contracted to do it, it's weird and doesn't make sense," Gordon told Bleacher Report recently over the phone. "Yeah, I'm 33—but I've noticed people are selective with how they talk about people's age.

"The view that I'm old, that don't make sense."

So Gordon decided to take matters into his own hands. He signed a contract with the NBA's Developmental League in January and was picked off waivers by the Dallas Mavericks affiliate, the Texas Legends. He's appeared in eight games since, looking both smooth and spry.

He's averaging an impressive 16.6 points and four assists per game while drilling 40.4 percent of his three-point shots. He dropped 29 points in his last game, behind six treys, a performance reminiscent of the fire-breathing shows he'd routinely put on during his NBA heyday with the Chicago Bulls.

 

"He still looks really good out there," Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris, a friend and former teammate of Gordon's, told Bleacher Report.

All of which makes Gordon one of the more intriguing players currently getting run in the D-League and a potential midseason signee who could wind up affecting outcomes come playoff time.

"I got postseason experience, I'm not scared, and in a big game I'm going to show up," said Gordon, who averaged 20.2 points in his 29 NBA playoff games. "I've done all that, and I think people who know the game know what I can do."

Which makes it strange that NBA teams don't seem to agree.

Gordon, after all, has always been a workout fiend. Stories about professional athletes waking at dawn, sprinting up mountains and swimming oceans become cliche, but the number of hours Gordon puts into his body, by all accounts, puts other NBA players to shame.

While playing high school ball in Mount Vernon, New York, a rough suburb about 20 minutes north of Manhattan, he'd spend hours jumping rope before games, just to work up a lather. In Detroit, where he signed in 2009, he built a house with a full-sized basketball court so he could get up jumpers at all hours of the day and night. Games of H.O.R.S.E would often morph into full-on workouts.

During offseasons, he'd get up more than a thousand jumpers a day. He'd keep meticulous records of every shot and exercise in marble notebooks. He became a vegan, giving up his beloved whipped eggs and turkey bacon from Mount Vernon's Sugar Bowl diner.

"I thought I was above and beyond with that stuff before I first met him," says Harris, who played with Gordon in Orlando in 2014-15. "Then I realized that he was on a different level; it was ridiculous."

Harris says Gordon kept a storage locker offsite in Orlando full of workout equipment. He called it The Lab.

"He'd go there after practices," Harris says. "It was crazy."

Talk to any of Gordon's acquaintances and stories like these repeatedly pop up. Yet after signing a five-year, $55 million deal with the Pistons in 2009, after an explosive five-year run with Chicago, Gordon's career arc began a precipitous descent.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 24:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)  Ben Gordon #8 of the Detroit Pistons in action against the New York Knicks on March 24, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Knicks defeated the Pistons 101-79. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

He joined Detroit in a period of transition. The championship team had been dismantled. General manager Joe Dumars appeared unsure how to move on. Gordon spent three years with the Pistons, never winning more than 30 games.

He even got to witness an NBA mutiny when, in 2011, six of the team's biggest-named players (not Gordon, though) skipped a morning shootaround as a means of expressing their displeasure with head coach John Kuester. And all the while his production began dipping. 

He then spent two years with Charlotte and then one with Orlando, where he averaged 6.2 points in just 14.1 minutes per game. His once-silky jumper had started to betray him (36.1 percent from deep, after shooting 27.6 percent the year before).

It looked as if his NBA career had come to an end.

Gordon said he had some offers from teams overseas but wasn't ready to leave his family. Instead, he decided to enjoy the first downtime he said he's had since the seventh grade. Until one day he looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

"I had a gut, man," he said. "I was getting pudgy-like—I didn't even realize that was possible. It's unacceptable."

He started finding runs with other onetime pros at the New York Athletic Club. He'd head back to Mount Vernon and get in workouts at his old gym. He shot and lifted every day, trimming down below 200 pounds—lighter, he said, than he'd been during his best days in the NBA.

Yet the NBA offers never came calling.

"He's known, and most teams (when it comes to waiver pickups) are looking for something new," one Western Conference scout texted Bleacher Report. "We don't even have him on our list.

Conversely, another Western Conference scout said he didn't know why Gordona player with playoff experience and a smooth outside strokeis having trouble finding a new NBA home. Harris felt the same way.

"I'm definitely surprised he's not in the league right now," he said. "Especially with the way the game is now—he can shoot the three ball…he's definitely a guy who can help a team."

Gordon, of course, agrees. He's even working on his point guard skills (a position he says he hasn't played since college) in the offensive systems of Legends head coach Bob MacKinnon Jr. to further endear himself to potential suitors.

While Gordon would love another shot at the league, he's also quick to point out he's not letting others control his happiness.

"Yeah, it's frustrating sometimes, but there are some things you can't control," Gordon said. "I can't speak for why other people decide things. But it won't really stop me from doing what I do, from working on my craft.

"I'm a professional. And I'm going to have fun playing wherever I play, whether it's the NBA or the D-League."

    

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks, and other things, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, and listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here.