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Celebrating Our Heritage: Kevin Duckworth page 2

continued Duckworth's seven-year career with the Blazers was full of ups and downs, most of them caused by Kevin's own sensitivity to criticism and the fluctuations in his own body weight.

Big guys in the National Basketball Association who don't answer to the nickname, "The Franchise," don't get much respect. Just ask Arvydas Sabonis or James Donaldson or Mark Eaton how they were treated in their days in the low post.

Then there is the case of Duckworth, perhaps the most maligned big man ever to play on a championship-caliber team.

"What's a 'Duck' worth?" That question was shouted at the seven-foot Duckworth often, usually from front-row wise guys in arenas hostile to the winning Blazers.

Unfair? Sure. But the then-285-pound Duckworth, the hub of those early 1990s Portland title contenders, was a conspicuous target for verbal abuse. Very large and sensitive, "you could get to him sometimes," recalled teammate Terry Porter.

An easy mark, you might say.

But on a Sunday night in May of 1991, Duckworth had the last word in the fourth game of a Western Conference semifinal playoff game against Portland's perennial playoff rival -- the Utah Jazz.

He answered his harassers by scoring 30 points and hauling in 11 rebounds to lead the Blazers to a surprising 104-101 victory. This despite playing with a very bad cold.

The emotional win gave the Blazers a commanding three games to one lead in the series -- a series they were to clinch two nights later.

In this pivotal playoff game with the Jazz, Duckworth did a lot more than the little things. None of it expected, however. Coming into the game in a playoff-long slump, shooting .388 from the field and averaging only 10.8 points in eight previous playoff games against Seattle and Utah, he found his touch, scoring 15 points in each half and then nailing six points in a row to keep the Blazers afloat at crunch time.

Getting Duckworth more involved in the offense was the Blazers' game plan all along.

"We needed to go inside to put pressure on them,'' Adelman said. ``I was so glad to see Duck get off. He really established himself in there. He worked hard and rebounded well.''

Through all of these heroics, Duckworth endured constant taunting from a fan in the front row of the Salt Palace, across from the Portland bench. As The Oregonian's Terry Frei reported, "The fan kept saying things to Kevin Duckworth that are worthy of a longshoreman. He wasn't alone; he was only the worst of the boisterous baiters."

Duckworth has delicate hearing and he doesn't shut it out. It's part of his persona -- a sensitivity that he has battled throughout his life.

Asked about it later, Kevin pointed out,``The crowd here is rougher on me than anywhere else in the league. Other places, there might be four or five people on me. I tell you, people here talk about me like a dog. They're bad enough things that I'm just shocked!''

Duckworth, though, had all the answers on this night, handling the crowd the way comedian Don Rickles used to use to handle hecklers in a Las Vegas club act -- embarrassing them first before they come at you!

Finally, when Jerome Kersey fed Duckworth for a dunk midway through the third quarter, putting the Trail Blazers ahead by 13 points, the Portland center glanced at the Jazz fan as he ran down the court.

``I gave him a little wink. That's usually not my nature, but that time, I couldn't resist,'' Duckworth said.

Time after time down the stretch, it was as if Duckworth pulled the plug on loudspeakers at a heavy metal rock show. He induced silence at the Salt Palace. ``I was into the flow of the game, and I didn't really think about it,'' Duckworth said afterwards. ``I just got the ball and I shot it. It was as simple as that. Rick (Adelman) ran some plays for me, isolated for me, and I was very thrilled the coach finally isolated for me. I was able to get some easy shots.''

No Trail Blazer felt better about this win than Duckworth, who was using sore-throat spray to chase a way a cold and looking forward to a day back in Portland away from the Utah hecklers.

``All I had when the game was over was a great feeling that I had finally come through for my team. I had the feel for the ball tonight. I hustled. Good things happened to me,'' he said.

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