Friday, February 15, 2013
Jordan: The beginning in Brooklyn
By Ian Begley
There are no statues or plaques that indicate you've arrived at the birthplace of the most famous basketball player on the planet.
Just a "No Loitering" sign hanging along a wrought-iron fence to keep visitors at bay.
"Jordan was born here," Eric Strongs says, standing outside of 39 Auburn Place in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. "But not many people in here know it."
Auburn Family Center, formerly known as Cumberland Hospital, currently houses New York City's homeless in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
"Here" is the Auburn Family Reception Center, a shelter for New York City's homeless families.
Fifty years ago, the Auburn Family Center was Cumberland Hospital. On Feb. 17, 1963, Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born to James and Deloris.
"It's kind of crazy," Strongs says with a wry grin.
The 10-story building is tucked behind the Walt Whitman Housing Project off of North Portland Avenue. There isn't much activity outside of the shelter late Thursday evening. Just Strongs standing outside with a friend who is smoking a cigarette.
The 33-year-old Brooklyn native lights up when he's asked about Jordan.
"Not a lot of people in there know sports, but some of us talk about it," he says. "Some of us know about Jordan."
The building has undergone several makeovers since Jordan’s birth.
Strongs lives in the shelter with his 10-year-old daughter and twin 6-year-old sons.
There's a sense of pride in Strongs when he talks about the building's brush with His Airness.
"Jordan did what he had to do to get out of here," Strongs said. "A lot of people can't say that."
Jordan actually didn't have a choice. He left Brooklyn after just 18 months when his family moved back to North Carolina.
So the only way to tell that Jordan was here is through word of mouth. Strongs heard about Jordan’s connection to the building from his 96-year-old aunt, who lives around the corner.
Part of him wishes there was something a little more permanent -– a picture or a plaque -- to let people know of Jordan’s history.
"I think it would be good for the kids," Strongs says. "Maybe if they see pictures of him and know that he was born here, they'll say, 'If he can make it out, why can't we?'"