Conversations: More with my chat with Clyde


Here on the Blazer blog, I will have periodic “Conversations” posts. They’ll be in-depth looks into my interviews with newsmakers and well-known names that didn’t necessarily make it into the paper. Think of “Conversations,” and just about every post here on the Blazer Banter, as the director’s cut.

On Thursday morning, I got Blazer great Clyde Drexler on the phone for 15 minutes while he was making the turn to the back nine on a Texas golf course. Yeah, retirement life sucks. As you all probably know, Clyde now does color commentary for the Houston Rockets. So, we talked about a wide range of topics from the upcoming Blazers season, his favorite haunts in Portland, Rockets rookie Royce White and why you’ll never hear about him mentoring today’s pros like you hear ad nauseum about Hakeem Olajuwon. (a week with Hakeem gets you a year in the news.

If you ever talked with Clyde Drexler – and this was my first time – you should know that it’s more of a laughing fit with a conversation on the side. Clyde has to be one of the most affable pros I’ve interviewed. He provides the laugh track at his own jokes (but not in a vain way) and has a bit of a salesman’s flair.

“I just think the whole Northwest area is just God’s country,” Clyde said after I described to him the view from outside my window. “Unlike any other part of the country.”

That last line was delivered in his best Kevin Harlan voice. I have a feeling he’s used it before, but I also got the feeling that he meant it.

On the Blazers…

Now, about our conversation. I used just a bit of it in today’s column about the Blazers’ budding chemistry. I’m working on another story that features Clyde but felt he could add some context to how important it is for teams to bond on and off the court. Really, just how critical it is to like the guy next to you. Here’s his full quote:

“When we had our best years, we always hung out with each other socially. Not only on the court but after practice, we’d always go get something to eat. Cafe Du Berry together. Buck Williams, Jerome, Terry, we’d all meet at Cafe Du Berry. But not only the core guys, but everyone on the team got along so well. You’re with each other for eight, nine months out of the year, daily, so you got to love them. They become like brothers to you. I can’t imagine any other scenario (laughter)”.

Contrast that picture of bliss to what walked onto the floor last year. Neither LaMarcus Aldridge nor Nicolas Batum could explain how the Blazers got so close…

Aldrige: “You get lucky, ya know. When you bring in guys that are all alike and it just happens.”

(A little addition by subtraction, possibly?)

Batum: “Yeah, it’s good chemistry on and off the court. We don’t think we had that last year. The chemistry off the court is huge on a basketball team. On Saturday night – we had a day off Sunday – after practice sometimes you’re tired to see the same faces but we had dinner all together. Saturday night, so. I like, I like this year.”

(Batum was smiling while saying this and repeated himself at the end to get his point across that he REALLY likes this team.)

And guess what, Clyde actually also likes this team. Okay, consider he’s talking to a Blazer beat reporter who will write this for Blazer fans. Still, he gives this explanation for optimism.

“Well you know I do the Rockets’ TV broadcast so I definitely follow all NBA teams but I always follow the Blazers with an eagle eye because I played 11 1/2 seasons with the Blazers and I identify with that franchise.”

“Well think about it, you’ve got a good young point guard in Damian Lillard. I saw him play in the summer league, he looked really good. You got a great small forward in Nicolas Batum, you’ve got a wonderful power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge. You just got to fill in the pieces. The more pieces, the more good pieces you get, the better your team becomes. With those three players, they have a great nucleus.”

H-Town storyline

Moving on down in Tejas, Clyde should get plenty entertainment with Linsanity this season. But this week, it wasn’t Jeremy Lin dominating the Houston headlines, it was that of Royce White and his anxiety disorder. White was MIA in his first week of training camp due to a “personal matter,” which then became a very public admission that he has a fear of flying. So much so, that White wants to take a personal bus to some road games. The laughter was silenced when Clyde was talking about White.

“I watched him a little in college,” Clyde said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him in the NBA. He hasn’t played in a game yet, he’s working on his conditioning but he’s got an interesting condition and we all feel really bad for him. And hopefully, he’ll overcome it day by day. You just got to work with him day to by day to see if he can overcome.”

It’s such a unique (and highly publicized) situation, so I asked Clyde that if he had played with a teammate with a known mental illness. He hadn’t but then he remembered a story about The Dream (something I’ve never heard before) and his one similarity to White.

“Your heart goes out to guys who have those types of problems, because they’re not easy to overcome. It must be torture for them. But I remember Hakeem Olajuwon really was afraid to fly. For every flight we’d get on when I was with the Rockets, even when we were in college together at Univ. of Houston, he would close his eyes and he would actually sit there and pray most of the flight. But, obviously he made it to the point where it was comfortable and there was no problem.”

“But you know, he never really was comfortable. (laughter)”

Again, this was news to me, especially considering Olajuwon’s long and traveled NBA career. And how he’s racking up the frequent flyer miles and Boys Scout merit badges in mentoring just about everyfreakin‘… bigman in the Association. See all those links there? That’s not even cracking the surface of all the copy written and video packages edited about the Dream Shake Home For Wayward Boys.

Clyde the Glide Summer Summit?

Olajuwon seems like the most active mentor in the league, and Clyde thinks the game needs his outsourcing.

“I tell you what, he’s been phenomenal at helping a lot of guys improve their low-post skills. I think the more people he works with, the more (players) who want to work with him. He’s found a nice niche in staying a part of the game. He’s a great guy, he’s very intelligent, so it’s good to see him still contributing to the game.”

“He’s doing a phenomenal job and he’s a great teacher of the game. I always tell guys, you can’t teach moves that you’ve never learned.” (laughter) There are very few guys who are qualified to teach NBA players skill moves. Very few.”

So why haven’t you done the same, Clyde?

Well, you may not have known this but Clyde has also held a few summer private one-on-one Glide Sessions. And that’s just about all you’re going to hear on the topic.

“The guys I’ve helped have not been publicized because you do it privately. They ask you independently and you work with them and that’s it. I don’t want the media hype that surrounds that. And I don’t think Hakeem wanted it either, it’s just they found out what he was doing.”

True. Once news got out that Kobe Bryant went down to Houston to learn the Dream Shake during the 2009 offseason (the first player that I heard about visiting Olajuwon), the narrative has not stopped. And Clyde does not want that. Even though I asked nicely for him to reveal a name or two.

“No, no. I can’t do that,” he told me. “Because I don’t want them to have to answer questions about it. Sometimes it puts pressure on guys.. ‘Hey, you worked with Clyde! We want to see this improvement.’ (laughter) What you don’t want to do is put pressure on them (more laughter) That’s why we keep it quiet.”

‘Bout to wrap up this “Conversations” piece. Hope you enjoyed it and be sure to keep coming back to the Blazer Banter. I read all e-mail, posts, tweets, so keep your feedback coming (good or bad). Ya girl’s got thick skin… and a sharp tongue, but let’s not find that out just yet 🙂

And oh yeah. One last Clyde tidbit. He says he comes back to Portland often but never announces it. His kids were born here and he has plenty of friends in town, so PDX has a big piece of his heart. Plus, his favorite steakhouse is here, so the guy’s gotta come back for those prime cuts of beef.

“I live in Houston, my kids went to school here but they were born in Portland. I played 11 1/2 seasons in Portland, 3 1/2 in Houston but I was raised in Houston, went to college here. My loyalties – if there was ever such a thing that I love both franchises, absolutely. I root for them equally because those are the two franchises I played for so I’m very loyal.”

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