Most basketball fans remember July 8, 2015, for a hostage situation with more twists and turns than Hans Gruber’s occupation of Nakatomi Plaza. A mysterious night of negotiations that could have only been less orthodox if navigated by Chris Tucker in Rush Hour.
The week of DeAndre Jordan’s 360-degree turn is one of the most intriguing stories in NBA offseason lore. The final 12 hours before the July 9 official window opening was truly blockbuster stuff for the scrolling NBA Twittersphere.
Five days prior, it was reported that Jordan had verbally agreed to a four-year, $80-million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. A Texan, Jordan was set to move back to his home state, to be paired in the frontcourt with NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki, with hopes of propelling them back into contention four years after the team’s storybook NBA title.
Dallas was a logical suitor from a business point of view, considering agent Dan Fegan’s tight friendship with Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Texas tax laws also rendered any CBA-related financial advantage the Clippers had over Dallas somewhat redundant. On a personal level, Jordan had forged a friendship with Mavs wing and fellow restaurant dweller Chandler Parsons, who we’ll get to later.
At the beginning of the month, Jordan had officially become a free agent but could not sign until July 9, when the eight-day moratorium would come to an end. During this period, verbal agreements can be made but are not binding, despite a league-wide understanding that they represent something more concrete, akin to spitting on your palm and shaking.
To that end, the Mavericks began to build around Jordan before he even donned the uniform. They acquired Wes Matthews to a huge deal and passed on a multitude of centers who they considered as back-ups, should they strike out on the Texas A&M alum. The wheels were in motion.
“I first heard about the possibility [of Jordan joining Dallas] in the middle of the 2014-2015 season,” a source within Mavs media told Double Clutch. “It wasn’t until March or so that I started believing it was a realistic possibility.”
For the Los Angeles Clippers, Jordan’s imminent departure seemingly spelled the end of the most competitive period in franchise history and the dissolution of the famed ‘Lob City’ era. Alongside Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, Jordan had recently led the team to a 56-win season, before a monumental, shocking Western Conference Semifinals collapse to the Houston Rockets.
The window of contention was wide open, but for whatever reason, DeAndre was primed to slam it shut, leaving them without a starting 5-man or the flexibility to fill the subsequent void, given the hefty salaries of Griffin and Paul.
“The stakes were high for the Clippers, who were still trying to establish themselves as a title contender,’ Golliver said.
“There had been rumors about their chemistry not being right and they were just coming off a heart-breaking loss in the playoffs that left all the main guys scratching their heads. In 2015, they had the signature win of their franchise against the Spurs in the first round, followed immediately by the disaster against the Rockets in the second. The Clippers had been a punchline for decades and it all seemed ready to crumble just as they were building real momentum. That led to the narrative: ‘Of course, this organization wouldn’t be able to keep it together’.”
“DeAndre was such an important part of that Clippers team, but I understand why he would want to sign with Dallas in the first place – he’s from Texas, received a great offer that validated his personal value,” said Burke.
Isaac Lowenkron is an LA sports broadcaster, who serves as a radio play-by-play host for the Clippers. He also shared the sense of bewilderment that seemed to be permeating throughout the local sporting landscape.
“When I first found out DeAndre had chosen the Mavericks the previous Friday, I was obviously really disappointed. I remember thinking, well, there goes the championship,” Lowenkron said.
“I was also kind of mystified. I was admittedly biased, but I felt that the Clippers were clearly the best fit for him from a basketball standpoint. The Mavericks did a great job pursuing him and they certainly made a well-reasoned and sound basketball pitch to him. But I felt that the sum of DeAndre’s skill set in Dallas would not be greater than the whole of his impact with the Clippers. Even in the few days after that and before all the craziness happened, it still felt odd to me.
“Beyond basketball, there was a sense of personal loss because DeAndre was extremely well liked throughout the organization with a familial sort of affection. Remember, he was just 19 years old when he was drafted by the Clippers, so he literally grew up before our eyes from a second round pick into a truly elite player on a championship contender.”
Clearly, Jordan’s relationship with the Clippers fanbase transcended his explosive highlight package.
“I was upset but I had to try and understand why,” said Clipper Darrell – the team’s most notable superfan. “We as fans have to understand what players go through and at the end of the day I Just wanted DJ to make the best decision for him.”
What DeAndre considered to be the best decision differed from that of his teammates and a large portion of his support system. He was on the verge of taking on an entirely new adventure in Dallas.
Then things got interesting.
Lowenkron: I remember it like it was yesterday. I was anchoring at FOX Sports Radio when the whole thing went down. I was intensely focused on being 100% accurate in a complex and rapidly evolving story, but at the same time, even though it was serious with high stakes and millions of dollars involved, it was also important to capture the completely surreal and zany aspects of the whole situation in an entertaining way.
Golliver: Jordan and the Mavericks had been linked together for a while prior to their initial agreement so I’m sure my take on the deal was at least partially formulated before it was first reported as ‘done’. That’s common given the prevalence of rumors. To that point, I don’t think we’d had a situation where a high-profile deal that was reported as done was later undone. Similar things have happened in the years since, a la Marcus Morris bailing on the Spurs for the Knicks last summer, but not before.
Darrell: I was confused and didn’t understand.
Lowenkron: I also remember that I was manually refreshing Twitter on my computer literally every second that I was on the air because new developments were occurring so rapidly and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I’m surprised I didn’t sprain my index finger from refreshing Twitter so much.
After days of calls and text conversations with Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers and Cuban, Jordan had reportedly gone radio silent on the latter, as he spent time in his Houston home. In reaction to this, Cuban booked a room in a nearby hotel, in hope of avoiding any complications.
The next time Jordan responded to Cuban, it was to inform him that he was on a date. Unfortunately for Dallas, all the courting was being done by the Clippers, led by franchise forward Blake Griffin. The pair went for dinner and Jordan played host on the Tuesday night, before welcoming a fresh slew of apparent visitors on Wednesday.
Lowenkron: Chandler Parsons tweeted an emoji of a plane, implying he was flying to Houston to rescue DeAndre from the Clippers.
Burke: Yeah, it started with Chandler Parsons tweeting, signalling he was on his way to vouch for the Mavs in this tug-of-war for DeAndre.
Dallas Source: Chandler Parsons’ involvement was without question the primary reason the Mavs had any chance of getting DJ to leave the Clippers. They texted and/or talked pretty much every day for months leading up to free agency, and the Parsons’ recruiting effort was pretty epic.
Golliver: I saw the same stuff as everyone on Twitter. I just rolled my eyes.
Lowenkron: About 20 minutes later, when Blake Griffin responded by tweeting an emoji of a plane, a helicopter, and a car, it was on!
Lowenkron: Now, earlier that morning, Blake had posted a picture on Instagram indicating that he was in Hawaii on vacation. So I’m sitting there at the station thinking, ‘does he even have enough time to make it from Hawaii to Houston before the signing moratorium lifts tonight?’ When it was confirmed that Blake was at DeAndre’s house, I remember thinking, ‘what, did he like get a ride on an F-16 or something?’ Of course, it turned out that not only was Blake already in Houston, he had stayed at DeAndre’s house the night before.
One key teammate who Jordan had endured a tempestuous relationship with during their time together was perennial All-Star Chris Paul. Reportedly, he had grown tired of the point guard’s constant barking and their problems were believed to serve as added motivation for the big man, as he looked to outgrow his current role.
For once, Jordan’s name was in the headlines, until CP3 was snapped in what has become one of the most iconic offseason images in NBA history.
Lowenkron: Now remember the timing here. Just the previous day, TMZ had published that picture of Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade on the banana boat in the Bahamas, and social media had already lost its mind over that. So after Blake’s emoji tweet, Chris tweets an emoji of a banana and a boat, and that took it to another level.
Lowenkron: The Clippers had also reached an agreement with Paul Pierce on a free agent deal, who was 37 and at the time and was not exactly known as a social media maven. So Pierce decides to tweet an emoji of a rocket ship. But instead of tweeting the emoji, he tweets a picture of the emoji of a rocket ship.
Burke: The highlight of all this, was easily Paul Pierce not understanding emojis and tweeting a very large clip-art rocket.
The Truth’s grandad-on-social-media pixelated emoticon jpeg was just one amusing chapter in this tale of athlete-controlled coverage. Several Clippers followed Parsons’ lead in creating their own narrative, as sports media and NBA fans followed in real time, reacting with exceptional creativity.
In reality, teammates arrived on Wednesday evening for a brief meeting that inspired a change of heart from Jordan, who re-committed to LA. For the rest of the evening they played cards and ate takeaway food, while firmly protecting their asset until the moratorium cleared. Kathy Bates in Misery this was not.
Lowenkron: By now, social media has naturally gone completely bonkers. Emojis and memes are flying everywhere like July 4 fireworks. The Golden State Warriors clap back by tweeting an emoji of a trophy. Michael Jordan then tweets six trophy emojis and a goat emoji.
Burke: I remember James Worthy reminding the world of all the Lakers championships with his 16 trophy emojis.
Lowenkron: When it comes out that the Clippers are at DeAndre’s house, social media reacts by saying the Clippers are essentially holding DeAndre hostage in his own home and are barricading it to keep the Mavericks out. Blake was following all this from inside DeAndre’s house, and then he basically breaks the Internet by tweeting a picture of a chair braced against a front door. That was the coup de grace and makes me laugh to this day.
Burke: Blake posting a photo of the chair ‘barricading’ the door was pretty great.
Golliver: Blake Griffin is one of the funniest people in the NBA, and the chair picture certainly captured the absurdity of the situation. He has a nice self-deprecating wit and that photo let everyone know they were in on the joke too.
After initially being frozen out, Cuban most certainly was not in on the joke but was more in the loop than widely believed. It was originally reported that the outspoken billionaire was hopelessly scrambling around town to locate Jordan like Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, but in fact he had taken the hint when his calls were screened.
Meanwhile, Parsons was more dismayed than anybody with the way things were playing out, as he outlined in later interviews. He had dined with Jordan for five consecutive evenings, leading to the verbal commitment and played a crucial role in the Mavs recruitment process. More than anybody, he was outraged that his friend would go back on his word.
Dallas Source: Cuban worked hand in hand with Parsons throughout the entire process. Getting Jordan’s address wasn’t a problem. Getting in the door would have been, which is why Cuban didn’t go to the house. When he did a 180, Parsons definitely was stung. They didn’t mend fences until the following summer when they bumped into each other at a club in LA. By that point, Parsons was getting vibes that the Mavs would not bring him back, so that might have factored into his willingness to forgive and forget. Dirk wasn’t involved in the day-to-day recruiting process – that was all Parsons. But Dirk did fly in for the sushi feast at the opening of free agency and the official meeting the next morning. That was a massive sign of Dirk’s respect and interest.
Golliver: I wrote a pretty scathing column for the magazine about the importance of sticking to verbal agreements in that situation because one player’s word can set off a trickle-down effect that directly impacts other players and teams. Obviously Dallas was hurt the most in that situation but to me, especially at the time, I was bothered that it played out so publicly and that he went back on his word. I know a lot of people found the entire situation to be hilarious given the reporting about the Clippers’ desperation. In hindsight, I can see the humor for sure. At the time, not so much.
Dallas Source: There was a sense of shock. It was pretty much an unprecedented situation and such a wild swing – from the Mavs finally landing a “big fish” in free agency after several swings and misses to being left at the altar in humiliating fashion. Though I don’t think DeAndre would have moved the needle that much, considering Parsons’ knee problems. If anything, Cuban might have felt obligated to pay Parsons the next summer despite his injuries. As the Grizzlies discovered, that would have been a disaster.
Golliver: That deal represents a lost era for the Mavericks that began with letting Tyson Chandler go after the 2011 title. Dallas wasted years of Dirk Nowitzki’s career trying to retool a roster around him. Jordan was an ideal Chandler replacement: younger, more athletic, and a strong fit alongside Nowitzki. The Mavericks had targeted the right player and nearly closed on him. Doing so wouldn’t have made them contenders, but it would have made the next few years a lot more meaningful.
Dallas was undoubtedly left in a tough spot, but we’ll never fully know how the 2015-16 season would have looked for them and Jordan, with the aforementioned trajectory of Parsons career and slowing productivity of Nowitzki.
In LA, however, they knew exactly what they would have been losing.
Golliver: When they salvaged the deal, it was a huge sigh of relief for Rivers, Paul and Griffin because they viewed themselves as the biggest threats to the Warriors in the league. Outsiders still chuckled at how difficult it had all been. Compare this, for example, to Golden State re-signing guys like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green without much friction.
Lowenkron: Remember, at the time of his free agency, Jordan had led the NBA in field goal percentage three straight years, led the NBA in rebounding two straight years, finished third in the voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year two straight years and a lot of people forget that he also had the longest active consecutive games played streak in the NBA as well. He was an elite defensive presence. I remember lots of times when guards would penetrate towards the basket, see DeAndre, and then instead of challenging him, would dribble underneath the basket and come out the other side.
Darrell: DJ was drafted a Clipper and he was a huge, extremely important piece to the puzzle to win.
Burke: The Clippers were the closest they had been in a decade, and keeping that unit together seemed necessary for a real chance at the title. They had gone from a laughable 27-win team to a perennial playoff team in a matter of two or three years, it seemed the team they had in place deserved another shot at it.
Golliver: Rivers had come in promising to take them to a championship level. They were showing progress and getting playoff reps together. The core was all vets and Paul was one of the best players in the league. They seemed poised to finally make the Western Conference finals. Losing Jordan at that moment would have crushed that narrative and set them back majorly. He was a very high-level defender and excellent athlete at that point of his career. His game has diminished quite a bit since then.
Two years later, a title-less Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets, finally closing the book on ‘Lob City’. Months later, Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons despite inking a massive contract in the summer. A 28-year-old Jordan had ironically been left as the only remaining member of the Clippers big three.
In the following offseason, Jordan finally signed with Dallas, on a one-year deal. However, midway through the 2018-19 season, he was traded to the lowly New York Knicks, where he played just 19 games. Despite a decline in production, he was then signed by the Brooklyn Nets, to join friends Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but has spent most of his tenure jostling for playing time with Jarrett Allen, while the Clippers boast a more talented roster than ever.
Jordan is no longer a marquee name in the league as he was in 2015, but his decision making back then had a lasting effect on the league going forward. His involvement in one of the wildest, most Hollywood nights of NBA offseason history has changed free agency conduct, player expectations and social media coverage forever.
Golliver: That was a moment where everyone just threw up their hands and realized all bets were off. I don’t think there would be as much negative reaction or outcry to a similar situation all these years later. The free agency chaos has been normalized.
Burke: It’s not often that someone commits to a new team in free agency and changes their mind. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it happen so publicly, if at all, before. The social media element really elevated this and made it feel like we were all in this decision together.
Lowenkron: It was the first example I can remember of a story playing out in real time with the principals involved actually participating in the chronicling of the story as it was happening. Ultimately, it was an event that helped build and solidify the uniquely symbiotic marriage between the NBA and social media. It was truly a one-of-a-kind event in league history and I don’t think we’ll ever see anything quite like it again.