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 dribble 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.
An unknown facet of Drexler’s game was his offensive rebounding. Drexler has the highest single-season offensive rebound average for a guard in NBA history: 3.7 offensive boards per game in 1989. He also owns the highest career average for a guard with 2.4 offensive rebounds a game.
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 identical – 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.
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)
Regular Season Career Averages (1086 games):
Playoff Career Averages (145 games):