When 5-2 Eckie Jordan walked in for her tryout with Hanes Hosiery’s women’s basketball team, back in 1948, the coaches were a bit underwhelmed. But once she started playing, they realized why she’d come so highly recommended. Yes, she was short, but she was quick, and tough, and a sure shot from the outside.
In the next five years, Eckie was the playmaker for the Hanes Hosiery Mills Girls Team. In that time, they won three AAU national titles, which included a 102-game win streak. She was a perennial all-star and team MVP, despite the presence of other talented (and taller) players on the team.
Jordan passed away last Saturday at the age of 91 after several years of failing health. At a service held in her honor Tuesday morning in her home town of Pelzer, South Carolina, her family displayed many of the photographs, programs, medals, and trophies she’d earned during her playing days. Included in the collection were the uniform she wore and the medals she won at the Pan Am Games in Mexico City in 1955. It was the first time women had been allowed to play basketball at this international tournament and Eckie was one of the AAU amateur all-stars selected to play on the team.(Her best friend and teammate, Eunies Futch, was also selected.
Back in 1999, when I interviewed Eckie for my first basketball book, she described how thrilled she was to march into the stadium, a representative of the country she loved and the sport that had been her passion since she was a little girl. The U.S. won that round-robin tournament with a record of 8-0. After two close games against Brazil and Mexico, the U.S. team found its footing and won the rest of its game by margins of 20 or more.
Hanes had disbanded its company team the year before (breaking the hearts of Eckie and the other women who lived and worked to play), so that made the Pan Am Games the capstone of Eckie’s long and storied basketball career.
“It still gives me the chills,” Eckie recalled in 1999. “There were 100,000 people cheering in the stands. It was a wonderful feeling to know you were representing your country.”
I called Eckie two years ago in hopes of interviewing her again for my most recent book. Sadly, she wasn’t well enough to come to the phone, but she did give me permission to use the family photos you see here.
While I’m sorry I never got to meet Eckie in person, I’m glad I got to know her story. She truly was the epitome of the women of her era who endured much and traveled long distances to “find a way to play.”