Jordan Loyd has been working years for this moment. His team, the Toronto Raptors, are one basket away from the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s the type of situation that everyone dreams of as a kid. When you’re playing on your driveway, counting down the ticks of your non-existent clock, fate in your hands. The time was exactly 4.2 seconds on a May evening at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

The Raptors inbound the ball at the top of the break and dribble it into the corner. The shot is released high over the defender’s outstretched arm. As the ball rotates in the air on its trajectory, not a single one of the 20,917 fans stuffed into the arena has lost focus. Loyd watches too, as it clanks numerous times on the rim. He crouches down, almost as an anticipatory measure for what’s about to occur. Bounce after bounce, the pressure builds, until gravity does its part and forces the ball through the net.

Game. Series. Toronto has won. Jordan celebrates with his teammates, they are one step closer to their eventual goal, an NBA Championship.

After the game, Jordan is all over the internet. His crouching stance in centre frame of an innocent image perfectly embodies the emotions garnered in the moment. This picture will live forever in the history of Toronto sports. It’s been seen by millions, became phone wallpapers, and been painted on murals.

Except, this picture was not about Jordan.

In fact, Jordan Loyd was in a black suit jacket. He didn’t play in that game. He wasn’t even rostered for the playoffs at all. To many, he was simply the “random guy in a suit”.

After all, Loyd was a no-name. An NBA rookie who had yet to get a shot in the league. This was not the first time he had been overlooked, or the first time he’d been undervalued. Through tragedy and triumph, through ups and downs, he’s always been in the picture, but rarely been the focus.

Jordan’s long-winded career started at home, with his family. His father Kenny shared his passion of basketball with his son, something they’ve always bonded over. It always seemed like Jordan had an affinity for shooting hoops. Even when it got him in trouble.

“As a little kid, Jordan went missing, and my wife couldn’t find him.” said Kenny, “After looking for a while, we realized he snuck out of the house and tried to shoot a basketball into our neighbour’s basket at the age of 3.”

His love for basketball only grew with age, and he played AAU ball in the summers as a teen. Him and his best friend Dai-Jon Parker both were infatuated with the game. Dai-Jon’s adamancy to make it to the NBA helped push Jordan to try and do the same. He was a fixture in the Loyd household, where they would sit down and write their athletic goals together.

Jordan was always a talented player, but wasn’t always the hardest worker. Luckily, he grew up with a coach who cared about him and pushed him to improve each day.

“My dad coached me growing up, and it can be one of those love/hate things. But for me, it really helped me get to where I am today”, said Jordan, “A lot of tough love, nothing was handed to me, and he was always a lot harder on me than probably on other players.”

His father simply wanted Jordan to improve, and learn lessons along the way. This is the part that many think is lost in today’s youth basketball landscape. That learning is as important as the winning, and can be transferable to more than just basketball.

“We wanted to make sure he knew at an early age that you have to be better than the next guy if you’re expecting to play.” said Kenny, “So as a parent I would be doing an injustice by not treating him properly by giving him what he deserves rather than what he’s earned.”

It was perhaps these early days where Jordan learned skills and traits that would carry him along his basketball journey. When he and Dai-Jon were both juniors, they helped lead Milton High School to a Georgia state championship. While Dai-Jon starred, Jordan was often the fourth or fifth option on the team.

Both players committed before their senior seasons, as Parker committed to Vanderbilt and Loyd to Furman, a small college in Greenville, South Carolina. With many players gone from the season prior, Loyd stepped up his scoring in a major way, en route to being named to the All-Conference team, and team MVP. However, due to his early commitment and lack of interest, Loyd never received any high-major offers.

“I committed a little early, and didn’t peak until my senior year,” said Jordan, “I’ve always been someone who’s peaked a little later than other people.”

His one season at Furman went decently. He played bench minutes as a freshman, a difficult feat. Despite this, he was redshirted, and didn’t want to wait through the whole process. He needed a place where he could show off his abilities, but also a place that felt like a family, much like the bond he and his father had over the game they loved.

In stepped Stan Gouard. A former basketball player himself, Gouard was the head coach at the University of Indianapolis, a Division 2 school. As a coach of a non-D1 program, it’s often more difficult to persuade talent that are typically insistent on playing at the highest level possible. For him, Loyd was the perfect player.

“I heard about Jordan from a mutual friend. When I went to go watch him play, he set the world on fire,” said Coach Gouard, “But a main reason why I wanted Jordan was the type of person he is. He’s the ideal person you want in your program. Once I got to know him and his game, I offered him a scholarship on the spot because I saw his potential as a person and a basketball player.”

Loyd was immediately acclimated to his situation at UIndy. He came off of the bench during his first year, but knew that he was in the right place. His situation was even further improved when he found out that his childhood best friend Dai-Jon was going to teaming up with him for his junior year.

Loyd and Parker part two combined to lead one of the best teams in all of Division 2. They finished with a 25–6 record, and made it all the way to the NCAA Regional Finals. Coach Gouard had a powerhouse on his hands, and it was in no short part due to the tag team from Atlanta.

“They were close, they did everything together.” said Coach Gouard, ““When Jordan and Dai-Jon played together our team was number one in the country.”

Fresh off of an outstanding campaign, Jordan was riding high, finally getting the credit he deserved, and production that he knew he was capable of.

However, on May 28th, 2015, Loyd got a call from Coach Gouard that would change his life.

Just weeks after the end of the season, Dai-Jon had tragically passed away in a tubing accident. Suddenly, his running mate, and part of his support team was gone. When it seemed like everything was finally coming together for Jordan, it all fell apart.

“At the time, everything was good, I never had any worries,” said Jordan, “and then it was kind of just a surreal moment that put stuff in perspective.”

For anyone, losing a best friend is a life-altering moment. It can be what defeats you, or what pushes you to keep going. For Jordan, it was the latter.

“It changed everything. It changed my outlook on life. Nothing’s promised, we don’t know how much time we have here,” said Jordan, “I grew up wanting to just play after school, but then after all that happened it was like there was no other choice. Because that’s what he would have done, he would have went 100% at it so that’s what I was going to do.”

“When Dai-Jon died, Jordan and I had a talk,” said Coach Gouard, “He said everyday I live will be for Dai-Jon, because he always felt that Dai-Jon would have been in the NBA. Everyone thought that. Basketball became more important to Jordan after he passed away. It’s like he died but his soul went into Jordan on the basketball court. His whole approach was so much different than it was before.”

Jordan certainly changed as a basketball player, but perhaps the biggest change was him as a person. Jordan was always a caring and well-liked individual, but after his biggest tragedy, he thrived as a person of honour and respect. His former teammate at UIndy, Lucas Barker, noticed this difference firsthand.

“We all banded together like a brotherhood. He wanted to make sure that we played for Dai-Jon,” said Barker, “He went out of his way to make sure everyone felt together.”

When discussing Loyd with those that know him well, they’ll often mention his character over his game. Jordan the person often leaves a bigger impression on others than Jordan the basketball player. He takes extreme pride in his attitude and hopes others feel the same way.

“That high character, that attitude you have, it will take you a long way,” said Loyd, “A lot of guys have talent and can play but if you have that positive mindset, it will take you places.”

And places it did take Loyd. Fort Wayne, Indiana. Eilat, Israel. Las Vegas, Nevada, to name a few.

It was in Las Vegas where Loyd took a monumental leap in his basketball career. He signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors, much to the surprise of Loyd himself. Suddenly, an undrafted, Division 2 athlete was an NBA affiliate player, allowed up to 45 days with the big club.

“I did not expect a two-way deal, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was hurt a lot in Summer League so I didn’t really get a chance to show what I could do,” said Loyd. “And so I was kind of defeated actually after Summer League. I was like man there’s no way I’m actually going to get anything from that so I’m probably going to go back overseas. Then Toronto called and I was just so shocked, I was like what?”

Loyd spent the season mostly with the Raptors 905, showcasing a skillset that he knew he possessed, but many NBA people were seeing for the first time. He even played 12 games with the Raptors, and was able to check off his goal of being an NBA player. He finished off a spectacular year in the G-League by being named to the All-League First Team.

Still, this was not good enough to be named to the 15-man roster that was eligible to play in the playoffs. Loyd was still a member of the Raptors, but his season was over.

This brings us back to the picture, the one that embodies Jordan’s career. Even for him, it means more than meets the eye.

“That picture is actually a really good representation of my view all year,” said Loyd, “I think I’m half on the court and half on the sideline. So it makes a lot of sense.”

All along, Loyd just wanted to prove himself. To do so, he needed an opportunity. While the Raptors 905 gave him one, it wasn’t quite his biggest goal.

“I’ve always said my top goal is a multi-year NBA contract and that’s what I’m working towards,” said Loyd, “A lot of times coming up and playing ball I’ve been looked over, and I haven’t gotten a fair or great shot to play at the NBA level, which is okay. I was on a two-way and a lot of people would die for that position and I was fortunate to have it.”

Much in the way that former teammate Fred VanVleet “bet on himself”, Loyd decided that he needed to take a risk as well. He declined his second year of his two-way contract with the Raptors, and headed across the world to Valencia, Spain, to play in the EuroLeague.

It was a risk to leave his chance in Toronto, but Jordan believes it will pay off.

“If I was a guy who never played overseas or was not open to it, I would have definitely stayed with Toronto and be on a two-way again,” said Loyd, “But for me, I looked at it like I had nothing left to prove in the G-League. There’s nothing else I’m going to show where they’ll be like I didn’t know Jordan could do this.”

This is a crucial year in Jordan’s basketball career. He’s been out of school for a few years, and he’s played around the world. However, it always seems like Loyd is one break away from fully making his dreams come true.

“I feel like I’m an NBA player, it’s just a matter of who wants to take that chance,” said Loyd, “I want to move forward, I want to move up and we’ll see what happens the next year.”

Despite all of the time and effort he’s putting into his career, Jordan still tries to give back to those that have led him to this point. Coach Gouard and UIndy helped shape his career, and he knows he owes a lot to them. This is where Jordan the person comes into play.

“We’ve never had a room to go and watch game film. And Jordan decided to give back financially to fund it and now it’s his room,” said Coach Gouard, “Tons of seats, flat screen TV’s, lounge area. It’s called the Jordan Loyd Film Study Lounge. That’s just the type of guy he is. He appreciated what we did for him so he’s just giving back.”

We are still in the middle of the Jordan Loyd story, perhaps even just the beginning. His experiences of playing youth basketball with his father, losing a close friend and winning an NBA Championship are all major factors that have shaped who he is. It feels like a lifetime worth of stories. However, at just 26 years of age, Loyd still has so much more to achieve.

Through it all, the one thing he will never lose are his close bonds. His father, Kenny and Coach Gouard are both on speed dial on Jordan’s phone, he’s never lost touch with them no matter where in the world he may be. And despite the fact that Dai-Jon is gone, he’s never lost touch with him either.

“He’s my motivation every game that I step out there. He’s the first thing that I think about, and then after the game he’s the first thing I think about,” said Loyd, “When I don’t feel like doing something or I don’t feel like working out, I’m here to do it. At least I’m fortunate enough to be able to do something like that and he can’t, so I’m going to put my best foot forward.”

Jordan has been doubted his entire basketball career, and yet has still persevered. He’s got a ways to go, but has made it so far, in no short part to advice his father always gives him.

“When people are doubting you, keep pushing forward, keep praying, keep playing and get stronger, faster and better,” said Kenny Loyd, “And it will all work out in the end.”

With his future looking bright, and his past always with him, Jordan Loyd is steps away from his dream.

He’s still in the picture, but maybe, one day, the focus will be on him.

Ryerson University Sport Media