Clyde Drexler glides into Manila
by rick olivares
Clyde Drexler has a championship ring from his final playing years with the Houston Rockets. An Olympic Gold Medal during his time with the legendary Dream Team in Barcelona. And a shrine at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
They all mean equally well to the 6’7” guard-forward who was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1997. But the one thing that he is just as proud of was his staying controversy-free in his 30-plus years playing basketball. “That is something I am very proud of and it is not an easy thing to accomplish,” said Drexler before the NBA Madness press conference held at the Palladium at the New World Hotel in Makati City yesterday. “It says something about my values as a person and as a family man.”
True enough, the man nicknamed “the Glide” showed true graciousness in meeting the local media despite a “bumpy ride into Manila” just as Typhoon Pedring struck early Tuesday morning and battling jetlag. “It’s not everyday that I am in this part of the world so how can I not get up for the Philippines? This is the land of Manny Pacquiao and where people are absolutely crazy about the sport that I played. I’m going to enjoy every moment of this.”
Drexler, the 10-time NBA All-Star, is in town for the NBA Madness Philippines 2011, an interactive basketball event that features basketball clinics, games (including a Clyde Drexler Challenge where fans get to compete against the NBA Legend for prizes), and a live viewing party.
“It feels great to be an ambassador for the sport. And I was fortunate enough to play for a team (the Portland Trailblazers) where we had great people,” said Drexler about his and his team’s penchant for staying out of tabloid headlines and controversies. “We had Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, Buck Williams, Danny Ainge, and Danny Young to name a few. The worst you heard out of that team was Kevin’s weight problems. And you see what happened when we all left.”
The Portland team that followed the breakup of Drexler’s squad that competed for two NBA titles in 1990 and 1992 was derisively known as “the Jailblazers” for their run-ins with the law and the tight-knit Oregon community where the Blazers played.
In a 30-minute long interview, Drexler recounted among many stories, his time playing with the late Drazen Petrovic in his two years with the Rip City team. “He was really good and it was just a matter of him getting minutes,” recalled Drexler. “He played right behind me and then we also had Porter, Ainge, and Young. I told (coach) Rick Adelman, ‘played him alongside me, not after me.’”
Drexler was interviewed for the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary film “Once Brothers” that told the tragic story of the breakdown of Petrovic’s relationship with Vlade Divac during the Yugoslavian civil war where Croatia ceded from the Balkan republic. Petrovic, along with teammates Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja to name a few were from Croatia while Divac and Zarko Paspalj were Serbians.
The NBA great also spoke of his time with the Dream Team that arguably changed basketball forever as they were the first American national team to play in that Olympics with 11 professional players (Christian Laettner was the only college player on the squad). “That was a special time and a special team. And we knew it as it was all happening. We opened to the world our style of basketball and soon all these very good foreign players began to come over to the NBA. And when you have 11 of the best basketball players in the world scrimmaging, all I know is you get treated to some really great basketball.”
Nowadays, Drexler does television commentary for the Houston Rockets. He plays a lot of tennis, golf, and runs half-marathons. “I miss the game of basketball, but if I play longer than 10,15 minutes, I’m going to need a stretcher!” He also does some business on the side and watches his 17-year old son Austin who is a sprinter for Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in New York. “It’s just so much fun to watch him.”
Early in his career, Drexler was known as a ferocious dunker and an aerial artist just like his boyhood idol Julius Erving who presented him to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004. “That was special. If you ask me what my memorable moments are, I’m going to take forever because as a kid, all I dreamed about was getting a jersey on and play. When I first got my jersey with a number 22 on it, it was the greatest feeling. And I got up everyday to play. And being able to meet fans and travel to countries like the Philippines, I am so blessed.”
It took me almost two hours to get from where I live to the Palladium at the New World Hotel where the press conference for Clyde Drexler was held. When I arrived, there was no one yet there save for a few of the NBA and Gatorade people. The NBA Asia's Carlo Singson introduced me to Clyde who was just lounging around and I got on with an early interview. We chatted for close to 30 minutes total. Watch out for the rest of the interview.