Lamar was a slender 6-foot-2 in high school and his best sport was basketball. As a senior at Anniston in 1942, he led the Bulldogs in scoring as Anniston won the Sixth District tournament championship in Gadsden and placed third in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s state tournament in Tuscaloosa. His efforts earned him recognition as a first-team member of the all-tournament team at the district level and the state level.
E.C. (Baldy) Wilson, who played against Jordan for Calhoun County High School as Oxford High was then known, said he and Jordan were rivals on the court but friends when the games ended.
“Lamar and I and (Oxford’s) Jack Stovall made the all-district team in 1942,” Wilson said. “There were no classifications at that time. … He was tall. Lamar was much taller than Rabbit, his older brother. Lamar played what we called the center back in those days. He played inside. You had to guard him because if you didn’t he scored a lot of points if you didn’t have a good guard on him.”
Malcolm Street, Sr., then in the early days of a broadcasting career in radio that would eventually make him the sports voice of Calhoun County, witnessed the 1942 state tournament.
“Lamar Jordan was a popular choice for all-state honors. The latest of the Jordan clan proved that he is a ‘money’ player by coming through with his best play of the year in the tournament. He looked great at getting the ball off the board and his shooting was excellent,” Street wrote in the Anniston Star after the tournament concluded.
In his 1989 book, Memories of the Old Anniston High School, Vaughn Morton Stewart, a member of Anniston’s Class of 1939, called Lamar Jordan “the greatest basketball player” of the era when the Anniston High building stood on Quintard Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets.
If anyone disputed Stewart’s assessment it would probably have been Lamar’s brother Robert. Local banker John Rogers is the son of Sara Jordan Rogers, the youngest of the eight Jordan children. He recalled hearing his uncles Lamar and Robert discuss their basketball exploits playing together before Robert graduated from Anniston in 1941 at numerous family reunions.
“Lamar could have the basketball under the basket and Lamar would always say Rabbit could be 30 feet away from the goal and he would be yelling at Lamar, ‘Pass me the ball. Pass me the ball, I’m open.’ That was one of the stories they told,” Rogers said, adding that Lamar usually would pass to Robert.
Lamar’s basketball prowess brought him a basketball scholarship offer from Georgia Tech. Money was tight. Rogers said Lamar left Anniston for Georgia Tech with one pair of pants, two white shirts and $10 his father had given him. He hitchhiked to Atlanta.
There may not have been much money in the Jordan household but there were lots of good times and more than a little mischief.
Tom Jordan, the youngest of the brothers, recalled when Robert and Lamar were barely school age Robert hatched a plan to loosen the screws on the glass front of the candy counter at the local dime store and make off with the candy that fell to the floor. The pair rode their tricycles downtown and, with Lamar distracting the clerk, the plan worked perfectly until they realized someone had stolen their getaway tricycles. Poppa, as they called their father, W.A. Jordan, quickly put an end to their life of crime.
Rogers remembered the story of the time Lamar skipped school to get the chance to meet Tom Mix, his favorite cowboy movie star. Rabbit always wrote the excuses for the children for his mother and signed her name. The following day he gave Lamar an “excuse” for his absence. As soon as Lamar presented the excuse, his teacher made Lamar write 500 times, ‘Lamar played hooky to see Tom Mix.” Lamar never learned how his teacher learned the real reason he had missed a day of school.
Lamar played basketball a year at Tech before entering military service in World War II. Tom said Lamar suffered from frostbite on his feet during the Battle of the Bulge and that ended his collegiate sports career.
“He could get around but he couldn’t stand the pressure of playing basketball or football,” Tom said.
At the close of the war, Lamar returned to Georgia Tech and completed his degree. His job selling construction materials for a major company took him to Texas where he eventually started his own very successful business. He never lived in Anniston again but returned regularly for both family reunions and high school reunions.
“Our family reunions were something to really see,” Rogers said. “Most of the time you say, ‘I’ve got to go to a family reunion.’ Everybody kind of dreads it. It’s maybe a one afternoon thing. Ours last the better part of a week and there may be 50 to 70 people there.”
Tom, also a Texan after leaving Anniston, said he and Lamar drove together from the Dallas-Fort Worth area on their return trips to Anniston, most recently to the high school reunion last year.
“There were a lot of people that Rabbit, Lamar and I all knew and we welcomed seeing them,” Tom said.
Lamar was noted for his love of new cars, golf and dancing, particularly the jitterbug. At many high school reunions, Annistonian Betty Carr was Lamar’s jitterbug partner.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever known anyone as kind as Lamar was,” Carr said. “You just didn’t find anyone better than Lamar.”
When Carr’s eyesight failed, Mary Louise Ford Henry, Lamar’s Anniston classmate now living in Cullman, became his dance partner at the reunions. She described him a gentleman with a good sense of humor.
“He was a wonderful person. I know he loved Anniston,” Henry said. “They were always coming back to Anniston. … I know Anniston has always been special to him.”
Jordan’s funeral service will be conducted today at 11 a.m. at Restland Funeral Home in Dallas.