Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An interview with Clyde Drexler

I arrived around 945am at the Palladium at the New World Hotel in Greenbelt, Makati City. There were no media people yet and Clyde Drexler was there just lounging around. I seized the opportunity to do an interview and boy, did we talk about a lot of stuff. This is the transcript of 90% of the interview. Enjoy!

On playing with Portland and Houston
Rick: What was it like to play with those guys in Portland and your old college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston? Was playing in Houston more special since you won a championship there?

Clyde: Portland is where I became an NBA player. After college that’s where everything fell for me. I became an All-Star and helped my team to the finals – twice! I had great teammates in Portland in Terry Porter, Buck Williams, Kevin Duckworth, Mychal Thompson, and Danny Ainge to name a few.

To go to the Rockets to play with my old teammate in Hakeem Olajuwon was even more phenomenal. And having Charles Barkley as a teammate made it even more memorable even if we were in the twilight of our careers.

I spent 11 years in Portland and three and a half in Houston. Everything that happens you have to enjoy. But I can’t compare. They’re different. Let me just say that I got up to play every time I went out there. Not just me but all of us.

Rick: I don’t recall hearing or reading anything about you being embroiled in controversy. Am I right about that?
Clyde: I do not have one controversy. I am so proud of that! Do you know how hard that is as a marquee player? That’s 30 years and no controversy. I don’t know if it’s been done in the history of the game. Do you know how hard that is?
Rick: I know how hard that is. That is why I brought it up?
Clyde: That shows you know the game. I haven’t been asked that question anywhere. Thank you very much. I appreciate fans with a good eye.
Rick: I noticed that in the 1992 NBA Finals, you did not engage Michael Jordan in any trash talking in the media.
Clyde: I didn’t need to. The Bulls had a very good team and I respected them. And talking trash was just not part of my game. I let my game do the talking. In that Finals, my leg was swelling. My right leg -- my strong leg -- every week, they were draining it of fluid. In those six months, there was the NBA Finals and the Olympics and I only had that surgery after that.

Rick: You were interviewed by ESPN for their documentary film titled “Once Brothers.” There you talked about your old teammate – the late Drazen Petrovic. Your memories about the man?
Clyde: Drazen was an awesome individual who worked extremely hard. And I loved being his teammate. It was a tough situation for him to come in and play right away because we had some very good guards and forwards at that time. I told my coach, ‘Play him with me not behind me.’ But that didn’t happen.

Drazen was special but it took him a while to work himself in the lineup. When he was traded to New Jersey – oh my goodness. He was a star there. He just lit it up. He was fun to watch and you ask questions like – what if he was still with us in Portland?

I always had fun playing against him. He’s a great guy. I was supposed to visit him in Croatia but you know what happened.

This is the part where we talk about Sam Bowie and the 1984 NBA Draft.

The 1984 NBA Draft
Rick: Let me ask your opinion about Portland drafting Sam Bowie. I wrote a piece before criticizing those who said that he was a bust. What’s your take on this?
Clyde: Why did you write that he was not a bust?
Rick: Because Sam was what Portland needed at that time. Not another guard.
Clyde: You are right about that. I was there and we also had Jim Paxson, Darnell Valentine, and Kiki Vandeweghe. We also added Steve Colter that year. At center we had Mychal Thompson and Tom Scheffler. We needed help in the middle and Sam had a phenomenal career in Kentucky. Michael (Jordan) also had a phenomenal career at North Carolina but no one knew how Sam or Michael would pan out. Hindsight is 20/20. You might say that Sam was a bust but that was because of all his injuries. If he had been healthy then he would have been a good player.

Dunking and Dr. J
Rick: The way you attacked that basket reminded me of Dr. J. Is that any coincidence?

Clyde: The dunks were all about shooting a high percentage as opposed to a jump shot. If I could blow by you for a dunk then that’s a higher percentage. A lot of team’s have seven footers and if you penetrate and get a dunk, and if you do it often enough or at certain moments, you could take the heart away of their team. And we usually end up beating those teams.

It was difficult but you don’t see too many people doing that. Sometimes you get lucky and I’ve been blessed with incredible leaping ability. The big guys if they saw it coming they just didn’t want to be there. You could see it in their eyes that they did not want to be posterized.

But growing up, I wanted to be like Julius Erving. Be 6’6” like him and dunk like Dr. J. He was a great role model for me that is why I asked him if he could present me when I was elected into the Hall of Fame. I liked lots of players – Jerry West, Walt Frazier – and it’s not just the nickname “Clyde”. Walt was a great player. Anything I did on the court I learned from Doc, Jerry, and Walt. But Dr. J is a tremendous inspiration for me.

You say that I am not showy as a dunker and I agree. I dunked to be effective. To help my team win and not do it for style points. I dunked to pump up my teammates and myself as well. And I learned that from Dr. J.

The Dream Team
Rick: How cool was it to play for the Dream Team?
Clyde: It doesn’t get any better than that. The Dream Team was one of the best teams ever assembled and I was lucky to be a part of that. I had a great year with Portland that year (1992) and we went to the NBA Finals and to the Olympics after that. You see I was injured that year. I wasn’t a 100% because I had a knee problem the whole season. I wasn’t healthy but my leg held up long enough to be a part of all of that.

It was a honor to be a part of that. You know that we had something special going on. To see the rest of the world come out to watch us play, practice, or even meet us at the games or the arena, it was amazing. Because I go up against these guys (his teammates) all the time in the regular season and the all-star game, the tendency is to take things for granted. But this was different. It was on the world’s stage. And in the world’s biggest sporting event. It was phenomenal and I have only good memories of that. The All-Star Game is once a year and you only play with some of them in one game. How many games did we play together in the Tournament of the Americas all the way to the Olympics? That was special.

Rick: They say that the practices of the Dream Team were some of the best basketball games ever played. Care to elaborate on that?
Clyde: I don’t know about all of that. I just know that the guys just practiced hard and they made for the good scrimmages. (smiles slyly)

Rick: What are you doing nowadays, Clyde?
Clyde: Nowadays, I’m a father. I’m a businessman with some business in the Houston airport. I do color commentary for the Rockets. I play golf, I run, I play tennis. And I do a lot of work for the NBA. I try to watch my son Austin who is a sprinter. He has hops like me but he chose his own path. I’ll support him in what he wants.

Rick: What was more difficult – guarding Jordan or dancing on Dancing on the Stars?
Clyde: Ohhhh! That’s very difficult. Great question. You guys all know that our cheerleaders are good dancers. Our cheerleaders are very smart and very good at what they do. If you pick someone out of the audience to do what they do it ain’t gonna happen. I’m sorry it just ain’t gonna happen. It takes years to perfect or develop their skills.

When I joined Dancing with the Stars it was probably a bad idea. It was fun but I realized right away that it was a bad idea. But you cannot be afraid to do things that you are not good at. You have to try.

With me mates James Velasquez and TJ Manotoc.

On winning the Larry O’Brien trophy
It’s a phenomenal feeling to be the last team standing at the end of the year. For many years you try to get it done. There’s only going to be one winner every year. It’s difficult to find the right team with the right conditions and players to get it done. I worked so hard for that. It was a feeling of relief and well… it was a fantastic feeling.

On the podium finish at Barcelona
When they put that gold medal around my neck --- that was such a great feeling. We got the job done and we accomplished something great on the world’s biggest stage and now we were being honored for it. It is about giving honor to your country. And to stand there with my teammates all who are legends in the game – it’s a phenomenal, an amazing feeling.

On his induction at the Naismith Hall of Fame
I elected to have Julius Erving introduce me. He was my childhood hero. It’s everything I worked for. It was a great moment for me. It said that I did something right in my career.


Here are pieces I wrote about Sam Bowie and the 1984 NBA Draft:
Revisionist History 
Another rejoinder to the 1984 NBA Draft

Here are the Glide's top NBA players today (not in order):
1. Kobe Bryant
2. Dwyane Wade
3. Dwight Howard
4. Chris Paul
5. Dirk Nowitzki
6. Steve Nash
7. LeBron James

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