For the past four months, no Adams Morgan teenager has gotten more unwanted attention than “Little Jordan.”
His family keeps a close watch on him at all times, refusing to let him out of the house most nights. An advisory neighborhood commissioner has written letters detailing Little Jordan’s life during those months and sent them to police officials. Community mentors have debated and dissected the latest incidents involving Little Jordan and what may be the cause of his troubles.
Little Jordan would like all this attention to go away. The trouble, he says, is with these adults “spreading the wrong message…just talking”—exacerbating things, making them more complicated. He had hoped to keep his troubles secret, even as those troubles began to pile up during the week before the annual Hoopin’ in the Hood basketball tournament, held in July at Walter Pierce Park.
The tournament is the biggest event of the year for any neighborhood kid who knows how to dribble. Little Jordan was the star player for the team from the 1700 block of Euclid Street NW—a team that had dominated the tournament, capturing back-to-back championships the previous two years. The Euclid squad’s run has come at the expense of its main rival, the “1-7” team, named after the loosely affiliated crew that mans the corner of 17th and Euclid Streets. “It’s been going on for quite some time—the rivalry,” says Earl Johnson, who refereed the tournament.
To get an advantage in this year’s clash, 1-7 tried to recruit Little Jordan. When he refused, Little Jordan says, the 1-7 team retaliated. “There was tension because some of the players on the team I was coaching didn’t play for the other team,” explains Euclid coach Jesse Jean, 21. “And they lived on the same block. When [Little Jordan] didn’t play with them, they got a bit jealous.”
On the Friday before the tournament, the two teams played an afternoon “preview game” at the park. It was a close game, close enough that a 1-7 coach started talking as soon as it was over, spewing stuff that would make any kid angry. It certainly made Little Jordan angry: The coach predicted victory on Little Jordan’s home court.
But the next day, the opposing team worried enough about its chances to threaten the slashing guard before the game. One teammate recalls a member of the 1-7 squad’s telling Little Jordan that if he scored a point, “we’ll jump you after the game.”
“I was already told what was going to happen if we started winning games,” Little Jordan says. “I didn’t tell anyone that. I kept it to myself.”
By halftime, Little Jordan’s team had taken a 6-point lead. When the game resumed, the talk got even more heated. Players started making fouls they had no business making, roughing up guys nowhere near the ball. “They were playing the New York Knicks 1997 basketball,” Little Jordan says. “I was trying to play the Bulls basketball….This boy was talking trash to me, saying, ‘Stop scoring.’ ‘You some shit’—he kept saying that over and over.”
One of Little Jordan’s teammates says Little Jordan had a retort early in the game: “Y’all can’t stop me.” “I think it was just building up,” the player recalls. “They fouled [Little Jordan] one too many times.”
Little Jordan went to the hoop one last time. One witness says an opposing player swung at Little Jordan after he made the bucket. Another witness says the player just pushed Little Jordan. Whatever it was, it was enough for Little Jordan to spill his secret feud out on the court. He pushed back.
Tournament organizer Katie Davis called an end to the game and expelled both teams from tournament play. Spectators and players differ on the final score of the truncated game: Either 1-7 was up by one or the game was tied. But the anger at the outcome was loud and clear. And its target was clear, too.
Within seconds of Davis’ decision, the 1-7 team began chasing after Little Jordan. A handful of kids tried to corral him at the upper level of the park, in an expanse of grass. Little Jordan, spectators say, despite being outnumbered, wasn’t backing down. Tournament supervisors and fans ran to the fracas. Some—like coach Jean—jumped in to protect Little Jordan.
When the 1-7 couldn’t get at Little Jordan, they found one of his teammates—“B.B.”—instead. B.B. says that when he got to the top of the steps separating the playground from the basketball court, a 1-7 player passed him. That player, whom witnesses identify as a teenager named Phil, then turned around and hit B.B. in the face. He went down hard.
“He was bleeding a whole shit lot,” recalls Cedric, 19. “He’s not even from around here like that.” B.B. didn’t grow up in the neighborhood; he refers to the players on the 1-7 team as the “crosstown team,” despite living a few blocks away from the notorious corner. He says he didn’t know his attacker.
At first, B.B.’s teenage assailant and his friends laughed at him, heaped on the ground. But when they realized his injury was serious, they fled. According to the police report, B.B. suffered a broken jaw from being hit with an object, which witnesses say was either a rock or a brick. He had been knocked unconscious. When he came to, he spat blood. He says he could remember his name but not the date or anything he’d done that morning. The injuries were serious enough to require oral surgery; B.B. would spend the rest of the summer with his jaw wired shut.
In the days and weeks after the incident, neighborhood activists and tournament organizers focused their attention and anger on the police department. They vented that an officer should have attended the tournament; one had been assigned but called in sick. They also grumbled that police were less than eager to grasp the significance of the incident when they did show up. But while the adults homed in on police failures, the teenagers homed in on Little Jordan.
If there were already tensions between Little Jordan and the 1-7 team, the game brought those tensions out in the open. Now everyone knew. Since the tournament, Little Jordan has spent months trying to disappear. He’s switched up his routes to and from school. He’s stopped taking the bus. He’s given himself a curfew. Several times, either Johnson or Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bryan Weaver has driven him out of the neighborhood or picked him up somewhere and given him a ride home.
Despite all of Little Jordan’s efforts, he hasn’t quite been able to vanish. Too many kids still see him, still want to hurt him. “It’s tough,” Little Jordan says. “I see them every day….I just have to, like, I don’t know, keep fighting every day. Keep fighting, fighting.”
Along with slick streetball skills, Little Jordan is blessed with a big-time mouth, according to friends. As the pre-tournament tensions increased, some of the blame rested in Little Jordan’s refusing to stop talking shit—even when he’s crushing an opponent. His on-the-court jawing often turned into off-the-court gossip. “[Little Jordan’s] got a dirty mouth,” says Mario, 22, a Kalorama Park regular. “He’s cool, but he like to nag on people.”
But something Little Jordan doesn’t like talking about are the threats and the beatings he’s endured. A week before the tournament, a close friend and teammate says Little Jordan took a beating that later showed on the court. “He couldn’t play the way he was holding his hip,” the friend says. But Little Jordan attributes the injury to a jogging accident. In the weeks that followed the tournament, Little Jordan says, he was jumped only once, near the Marie Reed Learning Center. The friend disagrees, saying, “He does get jumped a lot.” Weaver, who is close with Little Jordan, believes he has gotten into scuffles every other week.
As the neighborhood’s teenagers hunted Little Jordan, community leaders continued to lobby the police to make an arrest over the tournament. According to Lt. Mike Gottert, the case got passed on to detectives, who then sat on it. B.B. says he wasn’t interviewed by detectives until more than a month after the tournament. Officers failed to make an arrest by the time he left for boarding school in Massachusetts.
On Sept. 7, Weaver sent a letter to 3rd District Cmdr. Larry McCoy asking about the case’s status. “Numerous assaults have continued throughout the summer on other players at the hands of 1-7 because no one was arrested for the first assault,” Weaver wrote. “And now 1-7 talks openly about the immunity they have in this community.”
On Sept. 29, Little Jordan got jumped inside Wilson Senior High School by three students egged on by talk at the corner of 17th and Euclid. Police Lt. Daniel Ewell, who oversees many Northwest schools, including Wilson, suggests that Little Jordan may have thrown the first punch when confronted. He was badly beaten in the melee, suffering a black eye and body bruises. But his injuries weren’t enough to get him to talk to the police. According to Ewell, an officer asked Little Jordan if he wanted to file a police report. He emphatically said no.
The day after the Wilson incident, Weaver fired off a letter concerning Little Jordan to Gottert: “This neighborhood and 1-7 has a tragic past with incidents at Wilson High School—we need to quash this now!!!” When questioned as to why an arrest wasn’t made earlier, McCoy says, “It fell through the cracks.”
The case fell to 17th and Euclid’s principal beat cop, Andrew Zabavsky. On the afternoon of Oct. 14, Zabavsky had an order to lock up Phil. That night he made the arrest on the corner.
Four days later, Ewell set up a mediation session at the 3rd District station between Little Jordan and his three attackers from Wilson, along with their parents. It became clear that the basketball tournament incident had snowballed into something serious. But by the end of the session, Ewell says, Little Jordan and the others had each apologized and hugged.
But making up with three Wilson classmates isn’t the same as making up with all of the 1-7 crew—Phil’s arrest is still on his mind, Little Jordan says. He argues that the arrest was a big mistake, that the police should never have gotten involved. “If the boy sees [B.B.] again, he’s going to hit him again,” Little Jordan says. “Or another kid could hit him. He got locked up and got out the next day.”
Ewell reports that Little Jordan hasn’t attended Wilson since the fight and that his family is preparing to send him to a job-training program or to stay with relatives outside the city. His mom wouldn’t let him leave the house on a recent Friday night. Still, as of the last weekend in October, Little Jordan insists everything is fine. He says that he continues to attend Wilson. As for the tensions with the 1-7 team? “It’s over,” he says. “It was all just a misunderstanding.”CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Robert Meganck.