Former Rockets Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler join Bill Worrell
Two hours before the Rockets’ next home game Clyde Drexler will not be in the locker room. You won’t find him in the training room or on the court warming up. The days of running out of the tunnel to a raucous ovation are over now for the Hall of Famer. Drexler, who helped lead Houston to its second of back-to-back titles, will be sitting on an all too small chair in the press room of Toyota Center, a mere stone’s throw away from where today’s Rockets suit up. He’ll be mulling over statistics, studying the Rockets’ opponent, and preparing for his work as color analyst on the Rockets’ television broadcast.
Matt Bullard will watch Drexler and broadcast partner Bill Worrell from his couch studying the team he played for in nine of his 12 NBA seasons. Bullard will travel to Seattle, Miami, and points in between as he handles analyst duties for Rockets road games. While many Houstonians are traveling home from work ready to watch the Rockets on television, Bullard mirrors Drexler’s home game rituals in arenas across the country. Bullard toils, unnoticed for the most part, preparing for that evening’s broadast not in Toyota Center, but in a new city every night.
Neither will ever recapture the thrill of competing among the world’s greatest athletes, but each has found a new output for their competitive spirit. In their first full season as commentators with the Rockets, Bullard and Drexler will look to recapture the glory Houston found in the mid-1990’s, this time from behind the scorer’s table. Both are fulfilling a desire each had as a player.
“We all, as athletes, as we go through our career find ourselves in the gym talking about what’s going on,” says Drexler. “Doing the play-by-play in your mind and then to have the opportunity to do it with Bill Worrell, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
While Drexler enjoyed stints in coaching and in the front office, Bullard began to pursue a career in broadcasting while still an active player. He joined the Comets’ broadcast team during the NBA offseason.
“I talked to Joel Blank (Director of Broadcasting) and asked him what he thought I should do to get involved,” Bullard said. “He recommended that I get involved as soon as possible. I could do the Comets in the summertime and I got a lot of great experience from that.”
Bullard pulled double duty as a player and commentator for five years during the late 90’s. He gained national attention this past spring as a contestant on the ESPN reality show Dream Job. Bullard made it to the finals but couldn’t quite secure the national gig. However, the experience only enhanced his already refined commentating skills.
“Getting ripped by Stephen A. Smith on national television wasn’t easy, but the only way to get better as a broadcaster is practice,” Bullard says. “To have that kind of exposure with a national TV audience certainly added some pressure, but it helped my confidence.”
Keeping Bullard and Drexler in check will be Houston legend Bill Worrell. This season marks Worrell’s 21st season as the play-by-play announcer for Rockets telecasts. Worrell worked with Bullard before and after his ESPN experience and has noticed a difference.
“Matt has really picked up where he left off last year,” Worrell said. “He came back to us after he had been on (ESPN) Dream Job and had picked up some confidence he hadn’t had before. During the playoffs he really picked it up and became a star player. He’s good and he’s only going to get better.”
“I think it gives you a little more expertise because you kind of know what the guys are going through and you are able to explain the intricacies of every detail, every thought,” Drexler said. “You’ve been there, you know what they’re thinking, and you know what they need to get accomplished. At the same time I am able to analyze from a coach’s perspective, and now as a fan, and put it all in perspective.”
Drexler and Bullard are two examples of what has become a growing trend in sports broadcasting, former players as commentators. You might think that a man who has worked as long and hard in the business as Worrell might fight this trend, but it is quite the opposite.
“They (former players) really understand the game,” says Worrell. “They have been out there and they’ve experienced it, so when a play is called and it works or doesn’t, they can usually tell the viewer why.”
Still some players struggle, and while Worrell thinks both Bullard and Drexler will be successful, he knows why some former players have difficulty adjusting to a role as a broadcaster.
“The problem I think a lot of players have, is explaining or communicating what they want to say,” says Worrell. “The really good analysts are the ones that can get it across quickly. They have a basic basketball knowledge to communicate, but some just don’t have those skills. That’s why it’s hard to get a good team together; it just doesn’t happen overnight. Matt and I started to get a rhythm last year in the playoffs and Clyde has really picked it up fast, and I think he is going to shine.”
Worrell added that the tandem of Drexler and Bullard will each bring their own distinct quality to the Rockets broadcast this season.
“Who better to learn the game from?” Worrell says of Drexler. “He’s going to bring you some stories and take you to some places that average players can’t take you. Superstars, sometimes, see the game differently than other players.
“He’s (Bullard) just the opposite. He can tell you how hard it is for those guys who don’t have the athletic ability as some of the other players. He stayed in the league for 12 years. How did he do that? He wasn’t considered the greatest athlete of all time, but he had certain skills. Matt can bring that to the table.”
Worrell speaks highly of both Drexler and Bullard, which will only help the broadcast team chemistry. Those fans who have watched the Rockets on the road this season have noticed Worrell and Bullard poking fun at each other over pre-game meals.
“Bill and I eat dinner together a lot,” Bullard said. “I like to poke fun at him because it drives him nuts how much I can eat and stay thin.”
Surely, Worrell has dealt with worse in over two decades of Rockets action. He’s seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but it is the competition that keeps him coming back year after year.
“I just love the thrill of the competition,” Worrell said. “Every game is different. It’s just a thrill to be calling games for the greatest athletes in the world and having the best seat in the house.”
As for how the Rockets will fare this season, who better to ask than the former players?
“I think the Rockets have a great team this year,” says Bullard. “I guess the coaches and players are trying to diminish expectations right now and that’s what they do, and it’s the fans’ job to raise them. It should be a great year, though.”
Drexler is equally impressed with the Rockets, and before he assessed the Rockets, Drexler added that there is no way the Spurs can want the championship more than the Rockets this year.
“I’m really excited about this team,” Drexler agreed. “They have a great mix of leadership, they have good chemistry, and good talent. And this team has the mindset that we can be the best team in the league. I think Coach Van Gundy has got them believing in themselves. I think this is the best team they’ve had since the ’95 championship team.”
Rockets fans can watch Bill Worrell, Matt Bullard, and Clyde Drexler all season on FSN Houston and KNWS, Ch. 51. Bullard will handle road games while Drexler works home and playoff games.