Clyde Drexler

Born: June 22, 1962
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1983-’95
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1995-’98

Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)
Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)

To pull out an old, cliched writing trick… Webster’s Dictionary defines “glide” as the following:

: to move smoothly, continuously, and effortlessly

: to go or pass imperceptibly

It’s a term that connotes ease, that signifies freedom from agitation. Clyde Drexler as a basketball player encapsulated these attitudes and mores. Despite being one of the more exciting players in the NBA during the 1980s and 1990s, it was quite often an understated excitement, if possible.

His dunks came about in such a gliding ease. He rose majestically and flowed seamlessly through the atmospheric fluid flushing home the jam. Seemingly lacking even less effort was the way Drexler could extend  and wind his way into gorgeous finger rolls and scooping layups that no man should ever have any business of taking, let alone making.

Well, after viewing Drexler’s highlight package, it’s kind of clear that not all of his dunks were done devoid of invigorating passion. The man could throw down a hammer on opponents.

There was so much more to Drexler’s game than the dunks and flashy layups though. He was an extraordinary passer from the big guard spot, was great on cleaning up the defensive glass, and was magnificent at anticipating woeful passes to steal. Combining all of those traits with his flair for dunking and Drexler became perhaps the most feared player on the fastbreak during his era.

He possessed beguiling dribbling handles for a man 6’7″ tall, even if he did dribbled with his head down. The tunnel vision drive, though, just made the ultimate outcome of his forays even less in doubt. He was going to glide in stride and leave you embarrassed at the end of the occasion.

The full package of skills for Clyde took a little bit to unveil itself. During his first few seasons in Portland he shared time on the wings with Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe – both All-Star players in their own right. The glut of wing depth in Portland famously caused the Blazers to pass on Michael Jordan in favor Sam Bowie, which over time would fuel comparisons between Drexler and Jordan. They had similar – though by no means not exactly the same – playing styles. And they’d eventually meet in the NBA Finals.

Drexler’s full emergence pushed aside Paxson and Vandeweghe by 1988. He averaged a sensational 27 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.5 steals that season as Portland finished with 53 wins. It was their best regular season since 1978. A brief regression in 1989 was corrected with the addition of burly power forward Buck Williams.

Drexler, Buck, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, and Terry Porter steered Portland to a three-year reign as the Western Conference’s dominant team with 59, 63, and 57 wins respectively in the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. The Blazers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals, and succumbed to the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 NBA Finals and Jordan’s Bulls in the ’92 Finals.

Grueling hamstring injuries to Drexler helped to undue the run of Blazer glory. By 1995, the Oregon squad was almost completely turned over and Drexler was shipped off to the Houston Rockets. Although Houston was average with Drexler during the final stretch of the 1995 season, they caught fire in the playoffs thanks to Hakeem Olajuwon’s undeniable brilliance and won the 1995 NBA title.

Although not up to the heights of his Portland days, Drexler was instrumental in the title run. In a must-win Game 4 against Utah in the 1st Round, Drexler poured in 41 points, nine rebounds, and six assists while making 12 of his 18 shot attempts. In the must-win Game 5 of the same series he produced 31 points and 10 rebounds. In Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, Clyde the Glide soared his way to 29 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Three more seasons with the Rockets followed before Drexler retired in 1998. As his career wound down, Clyde continued to be productive averaging about 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game each year. Not bad for a shooting guard in his mid-30s.

His assortment of abilities led him to play in the NBA Finals three different times  and delivered a membership on the Dream Team in 1992. He’s one of just five retired players to have averaged over 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists for a career. However, when it comes to naming great shooting guards in the NBA’s history, Drexler’s name can often glide by without notice.

Well, let this serve as a reminder to always remember the magnificent ride of Clyde the Glide.

Honors

Champion (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 1991)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1990, 1995)
10x All-Star (1986, 1988-’94, 1996-’97)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1086 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.547 TS%, .472 FG%, .318 3PT%, .788 FT%
21.1 PER, .173 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (145 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.532 TS%, .447 FG%, .288 3PT%, .787 FT%
19.7 PER, .134 WS/48

 

Maurice Lucas

Born: February 18, 1952
Died: October 31, 2010
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Spirits of St. Louis (ABA): 1974-’75
Kentucky Colonels (ABA): 1975-’76
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1976-’80; 1987-’88
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1980-’81
New York Knicks (NBA): 1981-’82
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1982-’85
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1985-’86
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1986-’87

Maurice Lucas (ESPN)
Maurice Lucas (ESPN)

Lucas, the fearsome ABA enforcer, is another vegetarian, in addition to being one of the most complete power forwards in the league; at times [Bill] Walton appears stunned when, high over the backboard, he glances across the rim to witness Lucas ripping another rebound asunder and scattering the bodies below him. “Bill’s a gorilla until the fight starts. Then he goes in hiding while I straighten things out,” Lucas says.

That Sports Illustrated article accurately surmised Maurice Lucas in 1977. After decking 7’2″ Artis Gilmore in an ABA game his rookie season, the 6’9″ Lucas became the most feared enforcer in the basketball. The reputation never dissipated as Lucas continued to angrily confront other players for their transgressions against Lucas or his teammates. In fact, Lucas’ spirited confrontation with Darryl Dawkins is credited with helping swing the 1977 NBA Finals from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Portland Trail Blazers.

The “enforcer” label has obscured many of Lucas’s other fine basketball qualities. The defensive ability and rebounding tenacity aren’t too surprising. A quarreling forward who defends like made and cleans the boards fits common perception. Correctly fitting that bill, Lucas, from 1975 to 1984, averaged 10.1 rebounds per game. He was also named to the All-NBA Defensive 1st Team in 1978. Although that was his only first team selection for defense, he easily could have been placed on several more. There’s only so much space to go around on those five-man squads, though.

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ProHoopsHistory HOF: Bill Walton

Bill Walton

When speaking, writing, or thinking about Bill Walton, in a pure basketball sense, the first thing that comes to mind is injury. Seemingly unrelenting injury. The pain he suffered and the games he missed are staggering.

During a career that lasted from the 1974-75 season until the 1986-87 season, Walton conceivably could have played 1066 games. In actuality he played in just 468. He missed the entirety of three seasons, played less than 41 games in four more, and from March 1978 through March 1983, he played in a grand total of 47 games. By Walton’s own estimation, he has endured 36 orthopedic surgeries throughout his life.

So bearing all that in mind, Bill Walton’s triumphs are still something that few players can claim to have conjured in their imaginations, let alone actually achieved.

He’s been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, a Finals MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, a member of the All-NBA and All-Defensive 1st Teams, won two NBA titles, and including his college awards would just make this lengthy list too long to continue.

Celtics Walton

Walton was perhaps the greatest team player in basketball history aside from Bill Russell. The 6’11” center was always contemplating how he could lift his team to new heights. Big scoring nights were possible with Walton, but he was more interested  in any kind of big night that would deliver the win. If it meant block parties at the rim, then so be it. Bushels of assists to set up teammates for easy baskets? Get on board with that, too. Control the glass and limit the opposition to one shot opportunity, and a bad one at that? You bet your bottom dollar Walton would enjoy that, as well.

Bill Walton would also be the first man to admit that he played on great teams and had great teammates. Maurice Lucas, Dave Twardzik, Lionel Hollins in Portland… Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale in Boston. It’s no accident he played on two of the greatest passing teams ever seen. Teams that despite (actually because of) all that passing never had a single man average over 7 assists per game. Walton relished being on a winner, whether it was as the gracious headliner in Portland or as the grateful backup brought back from the dead in Boston.

For all that success, though, Walton’s career still produced an inordinate amount of pain. The foot injuries, the acrimonious split with the Blazers, the wasted time with the San Diego Clippers, the all too brief resurgence with the Celtics… Bill Walton’s NBA life is one that astounds, perplexes, and most of all reminds that great talent can scuttled by a myriad of unfair, undeserved reasons.  But Walton’s seven-year journey from the scrapheap to the 1986 NBA title inserts within us the notion that even the most dire of circumstances, when met with determination and resolve, can still have the most majestic of moments.

Years Played: 1974 – 1986

Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers

Accolades

NBA –
2x Champion (1977, 1986)
MVP (1978)
Finals MVP (1977)
Sixth Man of the Year (1986)
All-NBA 1st Team (1978), All-NBA 2nd Team (1977)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1977-’78)

Statistics

NBA – 468 Games
13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 52.1% FG, 66.0% FT
RPG Leader (1977), BPG Leader (1977)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1974-75 through 1985-86)
87th Points, 25th FG%
11th Blocks, 3rd BPG
31st Rebounds, 10th RPG
67th Assists, 40th APG
87th Games Played, 93 Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Buck Williams

Buck Williams

From 1977 to 2002, the New Jersey Nets won exactly one postseason series. Clearly the days between Julius Erving and Jason Kidd was a vast wasteland of misery except one genuine oasis of success. The wellspring of these teams was a no-nonsense power forward whose hard-nosed determination was no mirage.

Charles “Buck” Williams was the real deal.

Debuting in the 1981-82 season, Williams was the main acquisition (along with Otis Birdsong) that catapulted the Nets to a 44-38 record. That represented a 20-win improvement over the previous season. Williams was named an All-Star behind the strength of his 15.5 points and 12 rebounds a game. He also was declared the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

A 49-win season in 1983 followed and in 1984 the Nets slipped to 45 wins. But that ’84 squad is the one that delivered New Jersey’s lone playoff series victory in the lean years. Williams was superb averaging 18.5 points, 15 rebounds and 60% shooting as the Nets upset the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers. However, that series proved to be Williams’ high-water mark with the Nets. They’d lose in the next round to the Milwaukee Bucks and the franchise slowly crumbled.

By 1989, Williams was a 3x All-Star and in New Jersey’s last two failed playoff runs in 1985 and 1986, he’d averaged 23 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 68% shooting. His ferocious offensive rebounding, his thunderous dunks, his dogged defense were all being thrown away at this point on a mediocre Nets squad.

Fortunately, though, Williams was delivered from misery.

Traded to the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the 1989-90 season, Williams enjoyed a renaissance. His numbers actually declined, but his importance to the Blazers can’t be overstated. He gave the team a frontcourt player who’d take no silliness or shenanigans from the opponent.

In an eerie coincidence, Buck Williams’ arrival in Portland improved the team’s record by 20 wins, just like he had done in New Jersey. Portland won 59 games in 1990, instead of the underwhelming 39 victories they had in 1989. The regular season improvement continued in the playoffs as the Blazers made the NBA Finals that season and again in 1992. Although they’d lose both times, a team that makes the Finals twice in three years is a true success in any era.

A few more seasons for Williams followed until he retired in 1998, and by that point you could certainly say his career was a true success, too. An all-star and a regular on the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, Williams exemplified the best that a rugged, burly power forward could bring to the NBA.

Seasons Played: 1982 – 1998

Accolades

NBA –
Rookie of the Year (1982)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1983)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1990-’91)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988, 1992)
3x All-Star (1982-’83, 1986)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1982)

Statistics

NBA – 1307 Games
12.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 54.9% FG, 66.4% FT
2x FG% Leader (1991-’92)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1982 – 1998)
1st Rebounds, 12th RPG
23rd FGs Made, 6th FG%
23rd Points, 16th FTs Made
13th Blocks
1st Games Played, 1st Minutes Played

The Lowdown: Buck Williams

Years Active: 1982 – 1998
Regular Season Stats: 1307 games, 32.5 mpg
12.8 ppg, 10 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.8 spg, 54.9% FG, 66.4% FT
Postseason Stats: 108 games, 34.4 mpg
11.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 bpg, 0.8 spg, 52% FG, 67.2% FT
Accolades: Rookie of the Year (1982), All-Rookie 1st Team (1982), All-NBA 2nd Team (1982), 2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1990-91), 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988, ’92), 3x All-Star (1982-83, ’86)

“Desire is the key to rebounding; you have to want that ball,” says Williams. “Good anticipation – knowing where the ball will go- also is important.” Williams relishes the hard-nosed aspect of the pro game. “The physical play in the pros gives you a chance to play without the nitpicking fouls you see in college.,” he says. “It lets you see who’s a man out there.”

– via “Buck Williams: Nets’ rising star”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At 6-feet-8-inches tall and 215 pounds, Charles Linwood Williams was certainly not the most imposing figure on a basketball court at first glance. However, don’t let the slender frame fool you. When “Buck” stepped on the court, suddenly his agility would present itself. His determination and rough style would throw you off. And he may have been just 215 lbs at the power forward spot, but fight with him for position in the post or for a rebound and you’d quickly determine that all of that weight was composed of muscle.

For 17 years Williams played in the NBA and for 14 of them (1982 to 1995) he was as solid and dependable a PF you could ask for. He appeared in all but 26 games in this span. For the 1st half of this reign of dependable front court terror, he was the star anchor of the New Jersey Nets. The sometimes woeful, the sometimes surprisingly good New Jersey Nets. For the last half of it, he was the final piece of the Trail Blazer puzzle that propelled Portland from team-of-the-future to legitimate championship contender.
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The Lowdown: Kermit Washington

Years Active: 1974 – 1982; 1988
Career Stats: 507 games, 25.3 mpg
9.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 0.8 spg, 52.6% FG, 65.6% FT
Postseason Stats: 9 games, 29.2 mpg
8.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 1.1 spg, 50% FG, 70.6% FT
Accolades: All-Star (1980), 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1980-81)

via Los Angeles Times

“Is that Kermit Washington? Oh my God, it’s Kermit Washington!”

Via Nathan Dolezal, wide-eyed basketball fan, former co-host of Ain’t it Funky Now!

So, there I was exiting American University’s radio station after another funky good time on Ain’t it Funky Now! with my good friend and c0-host Nathan Dolezal. As we’re strolling down the hallway, a gargantuan man with a friend of his own is walking a little aimlessly, clearly a bit lost. Instantly, we recognize this as legendary American University Eagle, Kermit Washington. He spots us and very politely asks where the student television station is. We point him in the right direction and he leave us with a simple, soft-spoken “thanks fellas.”

Now, if you know anything about Kermit Washington it’s most likely the punch he threw in December 1977. So let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. It was a terrible act that nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich and turned Kermit into a villainous figure. Context, however, is golden. Admittedly, contextualizing a brutal act of violence is difficult, but then again the 70s NBA was a brutal place. If you think Charles Oakley was tough, and he was, then you would soil your Depends with the likes of Maurice Lucas and Bob Lanier prowling the court.

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