Gliding to the Rafters in Portland
Posted Mar 6 2001 12:00AM
Blazers retire Drexler''s no. 22 jersey
PORTLAND, Ore. March 6 (AP) -- The first time Clyde Drexler set foot in Portland, he was a big-time college player who didn't quite know what to make of this small town.
"The meetings were over, and I was thinking, 'It's time to go to the club. It's time to go to the bar,'" Drexler said. "But it was 10 o'clock, and everything was closed. There was nothing."
Eighteen years later, this little city still embraces Drexler like no other NBA player who has worn the red and black uniform. On Tuesday night, the Blazers paid homage to the future Hall of Famer by retiring the No. 22 jersey he wore here for 11 1/2 seasons. "I'm overwhelmed," he told the crowd during a ceremony at halftime of Portland's game against Vancouver. "There is so much love in the building, and I will be eternally grateful."
A banner with Drexler's number was raised, and he was joined at midcourt by former teammates Kevin Duckworth and Buck Williams, as well as ex-Blazers greats Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas. Former owner Larry Weinberg and general manager Harry Glickman, who drafted Drexler with the No. 14 pick, also were there.
Drexler was presented with a painting of himself driving past Michael Jordan, and owner Paul Allen said the team was renaming Dribble Drive, a short street that runs behind the Rose Garden, "Drexler Drive."
Nicknamed "The Glide," Drexler used his speed, ball-handling ability and graceful moves to the basket to become one of the NBA's 50 greatest players. He averaged 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists with the Blazers. He remains the franchise's career leader in points (18,040), rebounds (5,339), steals (1,795) and triple-doubles (18).
Despite his love of the city -- he has a home in the suburbs and spends many summers here with his family -- he wanted out when the team started to rebuild in the mid-1990s. The Blazers granted his wish and traded him to the Houston Rockets on Valentine's Day 1995.
Reunited with Olajuwon, Drexler finally got his championship, as the Rockets won the second of their consecutive titles.
"I wish that he could have won a championship here for the fans in Portland, but he was able to go to Houston and do it where he had such a great college career," said Blazers forward Scottie Pippen, who played against Drexler in the 1992 Finals. "He'll go down as one of the greatest forwards to ever play the game."
After he retired in 1998, Drexler became coach at his alma mater, but he quit after the Cougars had seasons of 10-17 and 9-22.
Drexler criticized Bob Whitsitt and the rest of Blazers management after the trade, saying the win-or-else attitude that Allen used to great success in the software business didn't work with the Blazers. Coach Rick Adelman was fired following the 1993-94 season, and GM Geoff Petrie quit soon afterward.
"Some really good people got hurt," Drexler said then.
Drexler doesn't take back what he said at the time, but Tuesday he was all smiles. He got a big ovation as he walked to his courtside seat before the game, trading high-fives with fans. Watching with his family, the big screen counted down Drexler's top five highlights. Former teammates Cliff Robinson, Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey, as well as Adelman, gave videotaped greetings.
Allen said he and Drexler had been through the "basketball wars" together in 1990 and '92, when the Blazers lost to the Pistons and Bulls in the Finals, and their shared triumphs and disappointments built a bond between them.
"He could shoot, he passed the ball unselfishly, he could rebound ... he did whatever it took to win," Allen said.
Allen said one of his fond memories was of playing H-O-R-S-E against Drexler at Allen's house, at night and in the rain, with Allen winning.
"Must have been homecourt advantage," Allen said.
Drexler said he often regrets not being able to win his championship in Portland.
"We were almost there," he said, holding his fingers half an inch apart. "For years, we fought Showtime and L.A. -- Magic and Kareem. Well, Kareem finally retired, and now we had a chance. We made some good runs at it, but just could never get over the hump. But I think every individual on those teams gave it 200 percent, because they really believed in what we were trying to get accomplished."