The Blazers With Clyde Drexler And Michael Jordan Is The NBA’s Biggest ‘What If’

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The Blazers With Clyde Drexler And Michael Jordan Is The NBA’s Biggest ‘What If’

 

Clyde ‘the Glide’ Drexler undoubtedly was one of the best players in the 80s and 90s, but his career is defined by Michael Jordan, whose shadow he was in for the better part of his career.

During his time at the University of Houston, Drexler teamed up with Hakeem Olajuwon, with whom he eventually won the NBA championship in 1995 as members of the Houston Rockets, and the team, famously known as ‘Phi Slama Jama’ filled the masses with enthusiasm.

Drexler then declared for the 1983 NBA draft, leaving college with career averages of 14.4 points, 3.3 assists and 9.9 rebounds. To this day, he remains the only player in school history with combined totals of at least 1,000 career points, 900 rebounds and 300 assists, adding to his all time steals record for the University of Houston with 268.

In the Draft, Drexler was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 14th overall pick. After a tough rookie year, Drexler went on to become one of the best and dominant players in Blazers history. He ended his career being a 10-time All Star, and as member of five All-NBA Teams. His number 22 is retired by both, the Blazers and Rockets. But he could have achieved a lot more, if there hadn’t been number 23. Jordan, who already beat Drexler in the 1982 Final Four, was drafted in the 1984 NBA Draft, one year later than Clyde. A rivalry was born.

The two best shooting guards of their generation, with comparable size, athleticism and a similar type of game, formed one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history. Unfortunately for Clyde, Jordan always came out on top, whether it was in the 1992 MVP voting, or in the NBA Finals that same year. It was just bad luck that the greatest basketball player of all time, was in his prime, the same time Drexler had his best years.

But it all could have been a different story, a story of ultimate success. If only the Portland Trail Blazers had a better frontcourt and a coach who didn’t have a center dominated game-plan, Jordan and Drexler would have been teammates. I had the chance to talk to Clyde Drexler on the phone yesterday, and asked him if he sometimes thinks about what could have been if the two actually teamed up in Portland. Clyde said that he thinks about it all the time and responded:

 

“I tell you what, we think about that all the time. Let me just take you back to 1984. The Portland Trail Blazers had the right for the coinflip, to have the first pick. They lost the coin flip, Hakeem Olajuwon would have been their obvious choice. I thought I was gonna get to play with Hakeem Olajuwon, we were going to recreate ‘Phi Slamma Jamma’ part two… Didn’t happen! They lose the coinflip. So now, Jack Ramsay, who was the head coach and Stu Inman, who was the general manager… Jack Ramsay won an NBA Championship in 1977 with Bill Walton as his center. He thought that the center was the key to a championship. So we had Mychal Thompson at the power forward, who was 6’10, that’s Klay Thompson’s dad, he was an unbelievable player, we had Kiki Vandeweghe at the small forward who was averaging about 26-29 points per game. They [Portland] traded like four guys [Calvin Natt, Wayne Cooper, Fat Lever, and two draft picks] to get Kiki. They had John Paxson at the two guard and myself, and Darnell Valentine at the point. So we were strong at the two, and we were lean at the top. So Jack Ramsay, with that center first offense, chose Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan. Before the Draft, Mychal Thompson and I were on record saying ‘hey, if the Trail Blazers pick Michael Jordan…’ that’s a direct quote from Mychal Thompson to show you how smart and ahead of the game he was.” Drexler said. “He said ‘if the Portland Trailblazers choose Michael Jordan, him and Clyde Drexler will become the next dynasty for the next 10 or 15 years in the NBA’. Now, the top branch of the Portland Trail Blazers said ‘quit saying that nonsensical stuff, we need a center, don’t put that in the paper ever again’. They kind of admonished him for saying that, but he was absolutely correct and we [Drexler and Thompson] knew it at the time. So they pick Sam Bowie, who is not a bad player, but he just couldn’t stay healthy and the rest is history. You had the chance to have Hakeem Olajuwon or Michael Jordan and you missed both of them. That’s just really bad luck.”

 

Bad luck indeed! But in retrospective, it wasn’t all that bad. Drexler may have not won a ring with the Blazers, even though they came very close a couple of times, but when Portland honored Drexler’s request to be traded to a contender and sent him back home to Houston and his old friend Hakeem Olajuwon, he won his first and only championship in his third and final NBA Finals appearance. Drexler also got to play with Jordan on one team, as both were members of the 1992 Dream Team, that won Olympic gold and to this day is strongly considered to be the best team of all time. 

Not a bad career for someone who lived in MJ’s shadow.

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