Monday, June 04, 2007

Good as gold

Gordon brought attitude, points for Lady Vols

Bridgette Gordon's act was pure gold for Tennessee women's basketball. Everything from her jewelry to her killer baseline jumper was luminous.

The only possible exception was her nasty competitive streak, which likely was perceived by the opposition as simply brassy.

Nora Lewis would've been inclined to think that way. After the former Louisiana Tech star fell for a Gordon fake and basket during a game in Ruston, La., in 1989, Gordon admonished her by saying, "Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids."

UT coach Pat Summitt used to wince at recalling that rebuke. Time has given her a greater appreciation for the spirit behind it, along with the source.

"She was as competitive as anyone that I'd coached to that point in time,'' Summitt said. "She was off the charts — in a good way."

Gordon is being inducted next Saturday into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2007.

Fellow inductee Daedra Charles was a teammate of Gordon's at UT and can vouch for her competitiveness.

"She was as mean as a snake on that court,'' Charles said. "I'd rather be with her than against her."

Sounds about right to Gordon, who's working these days in scouting and player personnel for the WNBA.

"When I was on the basketball court,'' she said, "I was an animal."

Gordon brought more than a ferocious attitude to her game. The two-time All-American's 2,460 career points topped Tennessee's scoring chart until Chamique Holdsclaw passed her a decade later.

Likewise, Gordon didn't trash talk her way to a spot on the gold-medal winning 1988 U.S. Women's Olympic team. She earned it with an all-around game. Gordon still holds the Tennessee career record for steals with 338.

"She was ahead of her time with that mid-range jumper,'' Summitt said. "She was like a guy. She could stop on a dime and pull up and shoot over people."

The arch of her career spanned two national championships (1987, '89) — the first two banners for the Lady Vols. Gordon's blend of talent and moxy was instrumental in the program's breakthrough.

In turn, UT's achievements helped the Lady Vols recruit players of comparable talent and background.

Interestingly, Gordon said other schools attempted to dissuade her from going to Tennessee by saying, "You don't want to go there, Pat is prejudiced."

A more relevant concern for Gordon, who grew up in Deland, Fla., and admitted to being spoiled and head strong, was adapting to Summitt's demanding ways. The give-and-take created some memorable moments. In retrospect, one of the funniest and most useful came at the semester break of Gordon's freshman season, when her grades were held because she had failed to pay a library fine.

The rush to judgment was that Gordon had shot an airball in the classroom. The team was playing in Hawaii and Gordon remembered Summitt telling her, "I'm going to send you on a raft with a slow leak all the way back to DeLand."

Gordon laughs out loud at the memory but the actual occurrence had her plotting a real departure. The ensuing conversations calmed the waters. The misunderstanding was useful for both player and coach to begin understanding each other.

Another misunderstanding played out in useful fashion at the other end of Gordon's Tennessee career. Summitt recalled chewing out her star player during a timeout late in the 1989 national championship game against Auburn, Gordon's last game with the Lady Vols.

Summitt didn't realize that Gordon was preoccupied with her front teeth, which had been loosened by a collision with two Auburn players.

"All I could think was I hope I haven't lost my front teeth and look like (former boxer) Leon Spinks,'' Gordon said.

"I was mad. Pat wasn't even concerned about me possibly losing my teeth. I was so mad at her I took it out on (Auburn)."

A root canal the following day preserved Gordon's smile, but only after her three jumpers first saved Tennessee.

Said Summitt: "That's being a great competitor."

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