HoopsHype.com Articles

Honoring the Glide
by Andy Jasner / September 10, 2004

To understand what it means to Clyde Drexler to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame is to rewind back to his tenth grade year at Ross Sterling High School in Houston.

“I got cut,” Drexler says, “and I deserved it. I was terrible.”

“I played baseball, figured I had to try something else,” he added. “I loved football, basketball and baseball at that time. We didn’t have the Internet, cable TV, video games, no distractions whatsoever. You played seasonal sports. I played basketball all the time, though. Getting cut had nothing to do with loving the game, trust me. The day I got cut, I went home and played for four or five hours. It wasn’t like I was trying to prove a point. I just loved to play.”

Drexler grew 10 inches from 5-8 to 6-6 from the beginning of his freshman year to the end of his sophomore year, and the rest, as they say, is history.

During college, he became known as Clyde “The Glide,” taking the Houston Cougars – along with then-Akeem Olajuwon as part of “Phi Slama Jama” – to the Final Four in 1982 and ’83. After that, Drexler played 15 seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston and earned an NBA title in ’95 with the Rockets.

Despite all of his accolades, all of his accomplishments, Drexler kept using the word “awesome” and “dream” when talking about his Hall of Fame induction.

“This is awesome,” he said. “I’m still dreaming and I don’t want to be awakened. This is the pinnacle for every basketball player who has ever put on a jersey. I didn’t play too much in high school and wasn’t heavily
recruited to Houston. Though I had a nice career at Houston, I never dreamed of playing 15 seasons in the NBA. I hoped I would play a long time but I wasn’t sure. I was confident in my ability as a basketball player.

“By the time you make it to the NBA, if you don’t have the feeling that you belong, you won’t be there for very long. In my case, I was probably overconfident, eager to show the world that I could play the game, too. I
love to compete and show that I could compete on every level. I couldn’t wait to make it to the NBA. Now, being inducted is such a great honor. It’s so awesome. I’ve kind of been in awe all weekend. It’s a dream.”

Aside from playing in the NBA, Drexler had another dream as a kid – meeting Julius Erving.

“It was in high school and we were at a Rockets game,” Drexler recalled. “Somehow we got back to where the players were and I got a glimpse of him. Moses (Malone) introduced me and it was awesome.”

Friday night, Erving officially introduced Drexler into the Hall of Fame.

“To have Doctor J introduce me into the Hall is a natural,” Drexler said. “I grew up loving the Doctor as every other kid in America did. He’s been a good friend and a big brother to me while I was in the NBA. It’s the ultimate compliment that he would accept to introduce me.

“He was a guy that I really looked up to and tried to duplicate. He’s the consummate gentleman and he has been a big brother to me for years. I couldn’t be happier.”

Fans could not be too happy when the United States team failed to win the gold medal at the Athens Olympics, instead settling for the bronze. Drexler was part of what has been called the greatest team of all time, the ’92
Dream Team which won gold in Barcelona.

“We raised the bar in ’92,” he said. “I said when we won that it was going to be a hard act to follow every year. Every year, the gap has closed a little more. European players have gotten so much better because they have
played in the NBA. The bar has been moved as well. Even then, it’s going to be a struggle.”

Drexler believed that the United States would have won the gold medal if the NBA’s best players had participated. Without players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, the task to win gold became that much more challenging.

“The players that chose not to play, I’m sure that they have legitimate reasons,” Drexler said. “I don’t want to beat them up for not being there. The NBA season is a grind, believe me. After the season, you feel like checking into the hospital for two weeks just to rest up.

“A lot of these guys have injuries that they need to nurse to get ready for the following season. With offseason commitments, you’re basically in a vacuum for nine months. I understand it.

“At the same time, the players we sent are very, very talented. It’s just that the European talent is catching up and those guys have played together for years. A lot of our players are very young and are learning. I think they did the best they could with what they had.”

DRAFT NIGHT

In 1983, the Trail Blazers had the 14th pick in the first round of the NBA draft. To this day, Drexler can still recall hearing his name called.

“It was a dream and I know I’ve used that word a lot today,” Drexler said. “I’ll be forever loyal to that organization for drafting me. It’s not like today where guys get drafted and they say, ‘You know what, I don’t want to
play for you. So trade me to New York or Los Angeles.’ I would never do that because that’s the team that thought enough of me to use their first-round pick. It’s such a compliment.

“I wanted to show them that they made the right choice and I worked so hard every day. I was honored to have been drafted by Portland and it was important to me to show them that they made the right choice. I was confident I could play but I also wanted to fit in. I had a great 11 and a half years there.”

Drexler was also a player very receptive to learning the intricacies of the game. He listened intently to his coach and believed in soaking up as much information as he could.

“I never pretended to know everything,” he said. “I wanted to learn, and I was lucky to have coaches like Guy Lewis and Jack Ramsay teaching me. Jack, especially, was such a detailist. All the little things you thought you could do, he pointed out that you weren’t really that good, which is exactly what you need at that age.

“I thought I could always play but Jack really taught me the little things. It wasn’t enough to just go out there and play. It was important to go out there and understand what he was teaching. He really helped me grow as a
player and I matured as a player under him.

“Some players today, being so young aren’t quite ready from a maturity standpoint. There were young players when I broke in – Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson – but it seems as if there are so many young players now that it takes more time. They need maturity, coaching and the willingness to want to get better and learn. There’s a quick-fix mentality and patience isn’t always easy.”

Drexler learned patience when he was cut from his high school team. He learned an early lesson and it has stayed with him the rest of his life.

“I never wanted to give up,” Drexler said. “If I wasn’t going to make it, it wasn’t going to be because I didn’t try hard enough. I was going to keep coming back fighting.”

That he did. All the way to the Hall of Fame.

Andy Jasner is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

Tell us what you think about this article. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com