Denver Nuggets center DeAndre Jordan channels mental health interests into role as mentor
While providing leadership to the title contenders, the 15-year veteran is enrolled in Brown University’s contemplative studies program
LOS ANGELES – As 38-year-old LeBron James has raced down the floor during the Western Conference finals, DeAndre Jordan saw firsthand how the Los Angeles Lakers star has eluded Father Time. While the Denver Nuggets’ veteran center knows his NBA All-Star days are long gone and his career is in its final state, the 34-year-old has visualized winning a championship before Father Time catches him.
“I just understand that Father Time is undefeated,” Jordan told Andscape. “Obviously a guy like LeBron is just a freak. But Father Time is undefeated, man. And I know that at some point my ball will stop bouncing and that’s OK …
“I’m at peace with my career. I know I’ve done some great s— in this league on the floor. I’ve been an amazing teammate to guys, and I’m doing that now as a veteran on this Nuggets team. And I’m just content with everything, but I’m definitely not satisfied because winning the championship is something that is extremely important and a goal of mine.”
While most of Jordan’s role has been as a seldom-used Nuggets vet in their run to a 3-0 series lead against the Lakers in the Western Conference finals, it wasn’t long ago that he was standing tall with James and the rest of the NBA elite.
Jordan made his only NBA All-Star appearance as a member of the LA Clippers in 2016. The 6-foot-11, 260-pound center was a member of the Clippers’ “Lob City” group in 2012 that was highlighted by himself and former dunk champion forward Blake Griffin catching beautiful alley-oops from guard Chris Paul. Jordan also won a gold medal with USA Basketball in 2016, and his posterizing of Brandon Knight is one of the greatest dunks in NBA history.
Jordan averaged 5.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 39 regular-season contests for Denver this season. The 15-year veteran and former Texas A&M star has played for seven teams since 2018 and sparingly in this postseason but is comfortable with being a role player with the Nuggets.
“I’m going to enjoy where I’m at now and embrace every moment in the present,” Jordan said. “And I think that that has helped me get through the ups and downs of the season because sometimes you play, sometimes you don’t play. You have a great game, you have a bad game. Just being able to stay as level as possible, that has been able to help me.”
Jordan’s NBA career has also come with a lot of stresses he has been able to overcome: The Clippers not living up to their potential during the “Lob City” years; being a part of the franchise when then-owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life in 2014 for racist comments; and being part of a failed experiment with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden with the Brooklyn Nets. The biggest headline of Jordan’s career came in 2015 when he shocked the NBA world by changing course in free agency.
The two-time All-NBA Defensive first team selection verbally agreed to a four-year, $80 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks on July 15, 2013, then changed his mind eight days later and re-signed with the Clippers for $8 million more.
“When I committed to Dallas and then went back to the Clippers, a lot of that stuff, it was toxic for a while,” Jordan said. “And just being able to separate that stuff from real life and the joy of basketball was a real positive for me.”
Now Jordan’s most significant role with the Nuggets is being a mentor similar to the way that center Udonis Haslem is with the Miami Heat. With many of the Nuggets’ players are young in experience, Jordan is a been-there-done-that sounding board. Nuggets coach Michael Malone also says he will not hesitate to use Jordan in playoff action as he did when All-Star Nikola Jokic was in foul trouble against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round.
“The leadership that DeAndre brings, him in particular, is he’s not afraid to use his voice,” Malone said. “If you ask every NBA player and coach who knows DeAndre, he has a tremendous IQ. He’s one of those players that knew every opponent’s play calls, and he would be able to call it out and help his team. He’s the same way even though he’s not playing. He’s engaged. He’s listening. He’s involved in the meetings. He’s involved in the walkthrough and offering his insights.
“I think it’s invaluable because he’s the guy, he’s been out there, he’s played with these guys, he’s played against those guys. DeAndre’s voice and leadership have been invaluable throughout the whole season and even more so in these playoffs.”
In the midst of Mental Awareness Month in May, Jordan says it’s important for him to help his teammates be a “couple years ahead” of where he was mentally at the same time in his career. He said he took his teammates through a meditation session before Game 2 of their first-round series against Minnesota. Jordan, a follower of Buddhism, meditates daily, practices yoga and engages in a strict plant-based diet.
A very curious Jordan first became interested in Buddhism during preseason trips with the Clippers to China in 2012 and 2015. He loved the visits to Buddhist temples during those trips. By the time Jordan joined the Brooklyn Nets on a trip to China in 2019, he was going to the Buddhist temples on his own. He also became fond of meditation and mental consciousness.
Now, at Jordan’s home in Malibu, California, there’s a guest house with a wellness space for sound bathing (meditation with sound), yoga and meditation.
“I always questioned stuff a lot when I was younger and growing up into young adulthood, just trying to figure out a way to be the most at peace as possible,” Jordan said. “And after the trips where we would go to China and play in those Global Games in Shenzhen and Shanghai and Beijing, the teams I was on visited temples out there. And I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I can get down with this.’ This is more my lane and just about being the best person you can be and putting out the most positivity and great energy you can in the world. And it wasn’t about right and wrong. To each his own, but I feel like it made sense to me and I started following that.
“I was looking to go to different temples and meditate and meet with different people and I just brought that home with me and learned as much as I could. It’s just cool to see guys gravitate towards it, because it’s not as hard as people think it is. I’ve learned so much over the past few years, it’s just cool being able to practice and also share with people who are interested in it.”
Jordan attended Texas A&M for a year and didn’t continue his studies there after entering the NBA draft in 2008. During the coronavirus pandemic, he yearned to go back to school online to study consciousness, mindfulness, Buddhism and meditation. After considering a handful of unique schools that offered the studies, he enrolled in the Brown University contemplative studies program in 2020.
The Mindfulness Center at Brown University’s goal is to offer programs to their students that improve individual lives and organizational effectiveness. Jordan is about halfway through the program and is on course to graduate.
While being a member of the Nuggets is time-consuming, he looks forward to the free time he uses to study and visit with his classmates at Brown.
“Brown ended up being one of the very few schools that had a program that I was interested in,” Jordan said. “And I took a summer class just to show them I was serious about school and ended up enrolling like any other person would. I did interviews and ended up getting accepted in.
“Obviously, I’m not taking a full course load because of our season and how hectic that is. But I am on pace to graduate. I’m superexcited about that and just being able to learn from some of the greatest minds in the country and from all over the world. I’ve also learned a lot of my classmates who I’ve developed a lot of relationships with throughout the three years that I’ve been there.”
The only thing missing from Jordan’s basketball résumé is an NBA championship. With the Nuggets one win from the NBA Finals, Jordan appears to have the best opportunity of his lengthy career to become a champion. And through his meditations this season, he has been visualizing what it would feel like to be an NBA champ.
“I do think about it for sure because you envision what that is going to feel like, what it’s going to look like, how you’re going to feel individually,” Jordan said. “I’ve definitely had fantasies about what the crowd’s going to feel like, where I’m going to be, what emotions are going to be running through me because I want to be able to visualize that to where it feels real. We’ve got a great chance to do it and if we do it, everything that has gone on in my head I’m sure it is not going to go that way. And that’s fine.
“I want to just be as present as possible in that moment because out of however many people have played in this league, not a lot of people have won the championship. And I think you want to embrace that moment as best as possible. And I’m excited for that moment when and if it does come.”