During an offseason where we’ve had so much time to reflect on the past, honor NBA legends, attend special causes, and search for ways to continue to spread the game to the world, one thing is as clear as ever- once a Blazer, always a Blazer.
From attending charity golf tournaments with Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey, to watching Brian Grant go above and beyond to raise awareness (and money) for Parkinson’s, to participating in honoring Arvydas Sabonis, alongside Jim Paxson, Grant, Chris Dudley, and so many other players from our past, it was a special summer.
Even though he spends much of his time now in Houston, Clyde Drexler certainly should be added to the list of former Blazers who are still as active as ever, working to promote the game that they love. It’s all about staying close to, and giving back to, the NBA.
Recently, while he was the headliner at NBA Madness Philippines in Manila, I had the chance to speak with Clyde about this special event, and the many others that he dives into on a regular basis. It’s not like this was his first trip abroad in support of the NBA, as he spent about five minutes listing off the many countries and cities that he’s visited over the past few years.
“Connecting with our global fans is what is so rewarding about these events,” Drexler told me. “It’s so amazing to me, every time I’ve been involved in something like this, how educated NBA fans are all over the world. They know the game, and know the game’s history better than most people I know in the states.”
Clyde spends his time during the season as the TV analyst for the Houston Rockets, but only works home games. Three years ago, when the Blazers played the Rockets in the playoffs, Clyde traveled with the team, and got a chance to spend a lot of time back at the Rose Garden. The comment he heard the most? “It looks like you can still play..” he remembers. Being we get to see him twice a year, when we visit Houston, I can certainly attest to that.
It’s not just the time on the golf course that keeps him in playing shape, it’s his tennis game that has always drawn rave reviews. My TV partner, Mike Rice, used to battle Clyde on the tennis court, and to hear the two recount their old matches (over and over again) every time they see each other, is something we should record and show on a broadcast at some point.
He can also still play, and teach, the game of basketball. He hosts many clinics, and was a big part of teaching the game at the event in the Philippines.
“People would be amazed at how the game has spread to all corners of the world, and how good some of these young players are,” says Drexler. “These kids are so coachable. They soak it up like a sponge. I’m here to give inspiration, motivation, and to remind kids that no matter where they come from, and what their circumstance is, they can do anything they put their minds to.”
If seeing the high-quality style of basketball in some of these countries doesn’t make the world seem smaller to Clyde, spotting an occasional old-school Drexler jersey in the crowd usual does.
“It’s always amazing to see all the Blazer jerseys, and really just random NBA jerseys,” laughs Drexler. “It would do players and owners in today’s NBA so much good to see what I’m seeing- basically the impact the league has in all corners of the world.”
Kind of like the impact he had in Portland during his playing days.
“Oh, what great times,” Clyde remembers. “I think and talk about my time in Portland, as a Blazer, and even during retirement, all the time- constantly. I have spent so much time in that city, I never really felt like I’ve left. It’s a fan base you really can’t explain to someone else. You simply have to experience it. I’m so fortunate to have done that.”
As Blazer fans know, Clyde was part of arguably the most popular starting lineup in Blazers history. During conversations with him, he speaks with great pride of how the five stayed involved over the years, and loves that they’re still so connected to Portland. Kersey is a team ambassador, and is at so many of the team’s events. Porter worked with us as a TV studio host and sideline reporter last season. Buck Williams is an assistant coach. And, of course, Kevin Duckworth, who passed away in the summer of 2008, was actually on the Blazers “Make it Better” Tour of the state at the time of his death.
“I think it’s great of Paul Allen to have involved so many of the great Blazers from the past in the organization,” says Clyde. “Terry and Jerome love being involved, and are so special to the fans in Portland. And Buck, to be on the coaching staff, is so great to see. We’ll all forever be connected to the franchise, and I love that my former teammates have a big part in everything that’s going on today.”
For Clyde, this will continue. As he always reminds me, he’s not going anywhere. Splitting time in his hometown of Houston, and his adopted hometown of Portland, and carrying the flag for the league, is an honor.
“It’s actually a huge privilege for me,” Clyde says. “To represent the league, and the game of basketball all over the world is so great. To see the love these people have for the game is just amazing.”