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Celebrating Our Heritage: Kevin Duckworth

by Wayne Thompson

President George Bush, the first one, came to Portland on Sunday, May 20, 1990, to raise money for Republican politicians. But his rare visit to Oregon was upstaged on the front pages of The Oregonian by what arguably was the most emotional and heart-wrenching victory ever achieved by the Trail Blazers in their 194-game NBA playoff history.

Notably, the president, a Texas transplant, would have been rooting for the San Antonio Spurs against the Trail Blazers had he arrived a day earlier to take in the seventh game of the NBA Western Conference semifinals.

As it turned out, George Herbert Walker Bush was a day late and a holler short as the Blazers defeated the Texas Spurs, 108-105, in overtime. This game marked the dawn of a new era for Coach Rick Adelman's Blazers -- a team that was to become over the next three seasons a dominant force in the NBA -- and an annual contender for the championship.

The seeds of those great championship runs were sown on this afternoon.

If you were to ask Blazers' fans of that era who was the real hero that day, their vote most likely would have gone to a soft-hearted. yet determined 300-pound center named Kevin Duckworth.

Say what you please about Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Buck Williams, Jerome Kersey and all the rest, the most inspirational figure in that landmark victory was Duckworth. Although limited to six points and five rebounds in an otherwise gutsy 35-minute performance, Duckworth and his backup center Wayne Cooper were the keys to this series-clinching victory over the talented Spurs.

It was Duckworth primarily who pushed San Antonio's 7-foot-1 star David Robinson off the block, forcing him to take outside jumpers.

Over the first three quarters, the skillful and young Robinson, the toast of the NBA that season, was just 2 of 12 from the floor.

Yet it wasn't Duck's defensive effort against the Admiral in Game 7 that stirred the hearts of Blazer fans.

It was the fact that Duckworth, going against the advice of team doctors, shed the cast that protected a broken hand. That he showed up to play in the biggest game in franchise history since 1977 was legendary stuff.

Indeed, at 12:17 pm, a good 30 hours before President Bush was due to arrive at Memorial Coliseum to dedicate a police memorial, Kevin Duckworth emerged in uniform from the Blazers' locker room.

The rest of the team was already warming up for the decisive seventh game, but few of the 12,884 fans had any inkling that Duckworth, who already had missed the last three weeks of Portland's magical 1990 season, was going to play.

When the fans saw Duckworth, they just exploded with a standing ovation that lasted a full two minutes.

It was a scene reminiscent of the seventh game of the 1970 NBA championship when New York fans became delirious at the sight of Willis Reed who, despite a severe ankle sprain, limped into Madison Square Garden to help the Knicks win the championship against the Los Angeles Lakers.

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