11/17/21 Walter Jordan signing photo

Former Purdue standout Walter Jordan speaks to a crowd in Fort Wayne.

Indiana Basketball Hall-of-Famer and former Purdue player Walter Jordan will be at the Nine Irish Brothers on 119 Howard Ave. in West Lafayette from 6-9 p.m. tonight, where he will be signing his long-released book.

The Exponent spoke with Jordan before his book signing event and found out a little more about the trials and tribulations he faced before writing his story for the first time. 

Q: How long have you wanted to write your own book about your life?

Jordan: If someone had told me I'd be doing this before the pandemic hit, I would have said they were crazy.

I had never really thought about it. People had asked me a million times to write it throughout my life because of how much has happened and how many times I have had to bounce back.

When the pandemic hit, I thought 'I'm busier now than I had ever been in my life.' It's amazing how that works. Before I had written the book, I had been busy with my youth program, my business and giving back to the community. The pandemic slowed me down: It gave me time to think about writing.

I didn't have a good grasp of what story I wanted to tell. It really hit me during the pandemic: with all the negative stuff that has been going on in the world, I figured I could do something positive for my family and for me to help my mental health. It's been 16 months since I started, and I couldn't be more happy to have gone through with it.

Q: What kept you motivated to keep writing during the pandemic?

Jordan: During the pandemic, I started to understand that we needed to change, starting with me.

The first two months, I didn't know the angle I wanted to write. I just wrote down titles to try and find the direction for the book. I kept rewinding, and it took me a long time to write the first two chapters.

I finally called up my sister, who's an IU grad and one of the smartest people I know. She was with me along my journey and witnessed a lot of what I did. I asked her 'I'm writing this book, but I need help with the title. Once I get that, I should be in good shape.'

She said, 'I know the title of your book. I don't have to read anything because I know you. The title of your book is 'Gracefully Broken.''

I dropped my phone. Literally. I couldn't believe it. It told my story perfectly: It encapsulated losing my son, my quadruple bypass surgery, losing my mom at 17, not being able to walk at 22. It tells about my mistakes, my flaws, my relationships with people and my regret of not putting enough emphasis on the things that were important in life. 

We talked about bouncing back, how we weren't supposed to make it, how we were one of ten kids growing up without anything. We grew up hungry, sleep on the kitchen floor, depend on the kitchen stove for heat and have all seven boys sleep in one bedroom.

On top of that, we were bussed out in 1971, when I was a sophomore in high school. The fights, the racism, all these moments that took place and how we rebounded from that. How our athletic teams brought our school together, how we were a state champion, how I lost my mom a week before senior year and how that inspired us and brought us together. How an 80% white senior class became some of the best friends I have ever had, and how I still talk to some of them 50 years later.

It's been a journey that has been well received. I've been blown away by the respect I have gotten throughout the country because of the book and having the chance to tell my story. Everyone has a story: Most of them have to be told and most of them have to be heard.

It has definitely brought me more peace than anything in the world. I have more people telling me they feel respect for me because I wrote the book. I am so thankful I had the thick skin and courage to tell my truth.

Q: How does it feel to be a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame? How hard did you work to get there?

Jordan: You have to remember, I wasn't a five-star recruit. 

I was a late bloomer. I was a kid who worked extremely hard and had the foundation to believe in his team. I have had an awesome team all my life. I had two parents who told me I could do anything.

'Can't' was a cuss world in the Jordan household. We never could say we couldn't do anything. I had this vision junior year that I wanted to go play basketball, so I worked hard toward that because of how much I loved the game of basketball.

My brothers and sisters had attended IU, so every so often I would get dropped off in Bloomington. I would go play against college students, and every day I would get better. Every morning, I would do it, and five to six hours later my siblings would come pick me up.

People in Fort Wayne didn't see me work or play. They thought I was the same old guy who couldn't play basketball, but I was working extremely hard. That was always expected of me: I had to work hard for everything I have. People say it was overnight, but I was constantly playing basketball six, seven or eight hours a day. I ate, slept and thought basketball. 

When I came back my senior year, everything that had happened had brought us so close together, how people rallied behind my family and supported them, we knew he had something special going on. We knew winning would cure a lot of that, and we wanted to help each other reach that goal. We won 28 straight games and beat the No. 1, 2 and 3 ranked team in the state before beating a Wayne Walsh-led team in the state championship.

When we won in the championship, they had no choice but to put me on the Indiana All-Star team. It was a dream-come-true to play with Larry Bird, Walsh, Roy Taylor and Mr. Basketball Steve Collier. I had read about them: they hadn't read about me. Playing in the Indiana All-Star game gave me a lot of confidence in myself and my ability.

Q: You were able to play with some of the best basketball players of all time at the World University games. What did it mean to play there?

Jordan: There were 37 of us to receive an invite. 

Danny Brown, who was the coach of Louisville at the time, has played and coached against me. He told me at the tryouts that he always liked my spirit, how I played the game and how I respected the game.

When I went there, I met guys who went on to have long careers in the NBA who were cut from the team. To make that team meant everything: everybody who made that team played in the NBA with the exception of one guy.

It was a tremendous honor to represent the United States. To win a gold medal with those guys, to put a USA uniform on and represent your country, it still gives me chills. 

Those experiences with not just the team, but with the 700 USA athletes who went on to play all different sports, it made me say "Wow, that was such a wonderful experience."

Q: Can you talk about the testimonial your brother wrote for you? What was it like to grow up with nine other siblings?

Jordan: We had nothing, but we had everything.

When I grew up, the only people I knew were in my neighborhood. We saw what was possible with what we had even when we had nothing. We all chipped in to help our neighbors, so we had everything. The life lessons that taught us how to love each other, we learned from the people in our neighborhood.

You don't realize it at the time, but you appreciate the love you got and the fact that we grew up in a Christian environment where we just love people.

I loved Julius Erving and Kareem and all those people, but my real heroes were my older siblings and my parents.

Q: You had played under then-head coach Fred Schaus and against coaches like Bobby Knight. What was that coaching environment like when you played? How did you use those styles in Team Impact and Beyond?

Jordan: I was blessed to play for some amazing coaches: Phil Jackson, Fred Schaus, George Karl. I think I take a little bit from all of them. Any secrets you can get to see how guys win, you take it and you mold that.

I believe that you win the most with character and 'character kids.' I always tell coaches to play their character kids. That's what I'm excited about with this Purdue team: They have character. They love to come to practice, they're excited to play and they have fun. You can feel and see the character, how they play for each other and how they stick together.

Chances are if you don't have good character off the court, you won't have good character on it. I believe it's just a part of the culture and who you are. We teach our players at Team Impact to not only think four to five years ahead like athletics departments can give you, but 40-50 year game plans that can take care of your family and set an example for your community.

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