Clouds and sun

Redwood Empire's forgotten NBA big man

He may have been the greatest Native American basketball player of all time. He was a double-digit scorer over seven NBA seasons. He played alongside Oscar Robertson and Lenny Wilkens, and guarded the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Missing a game under questioned circumstances, he inadvertently paved the way for a record-setting offensive output.

And then he was dead at the age of 31, leaving his legacy to fade over the decades.

Phil Jordon, born in Lakeport in 1933, played at Willits High School before moving to Redding. He was the first Redwood Empire product to play in the NBA — and the last, until Casa Grande alum Josh Akognon signed a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks in May.

Akognon has played in three NBA games so far. Jordon played 442 games with four different teams, and yet he is virtually unknown by local sports fans, a result of both his early demise and the less-hyped era in which he played.

Jordon's early life wasn't easy. His family was not well off, and his father, John Jordon, died when Phil was a teenager, leaving his mother, Elizabeth, to care for five children. Phil Jordon had an older brother, Jimmy; two younger brothers, twins Perry and Larry; and a younger sister, Shirley.

John Jordon was Native American, of the Wailaki and the Nomlaki tribes, according to Perry's daughter Lisa Jordon. His children were impressively tall. Shirley is over 6 feet, and all the brothers except for Phil were 6-4 or 6-5, according to Perry Jordon. They probably got it from their mother's side of the family. Elizabeth Jordon, who was white, also stood over 6 feet tall.

"Her maiden name was Short," Perry said with a laugh.


Phil Jordon grew to 6-foot-10 and was described as having a feathery touch with the basketball. The Ukiah Daily Journal once wrote that Jordon "is known to have hooked in 10 straight baskets with either hand in his college days."

Jordon earned an athletic scholarship to Whitworth College (now Whitworth University), an NAIA school in Spokane, Wash. The website AinsworthSports.com ranked Jordon the No. 1 athlete in Whitworth history.

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