Drexler's rise to Hall started off rebound

Inductee talks of being cut, like Jordan, in 10th grade

Basketball

September 11, 2004|By Lori Riley | Lori Riley,THE HARTFORD COURANT

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team as a sophomore has been well documented.

Not so many know the same thing happened to Clyde Drexler.

"They threw me out of the gym," Drexler said yesterday at the Basketball Hall of Fame. "I was terrible. It was a wake-up call. It let me know that only the best players are going to make the team."

Drexler did make the team the next year. Clyde "The Glide" went on to play for the University of Houston's high-flying Phi Slamma Jamma team with Hakeem Olajuwon, then for 15 years in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets.

Last night, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with Phoenix Suns CEO and president Jerry Colangelo; Yugoslavian Olympic gold medalist Drazen Dalipagic; former Kansas star and Harlem Globetrotter Lynette Woodard; Bill Sharman, who won championships as a coach in the American Basketball League, the American Basketball Association and NBA; and Maurice Stokes, the 1956 NBA Rookie of the Year whose career was cut short by a head injury and subsequent stroke.

"It was a pipe dream," Drexler said of his induction. "I'm still dreaming, so don't wake me up."

Drexler was introduced as a Hall of Fame player by another Hall of Famer who was his idol growing up - Julius Erving. He recalled sneaking into a Rockets-76ers game when he was in high school to get a glimpse of Erving.

"I kind of knew Moses Malone," Drexler said. "Moses called me over and introduced me to Julius. That was a great moment."

Drexler was a point guard, "a little guy," in ninth grade. But he grew from 5 feet 10 at the end of his freshman year to 6-6 as a sophomore. When he didn't make the team, it was a little embarrassing, because people kept asking if he played basketball.

But by his senior year, he became the team Most Valuable Player.

Drexler's Houston team made it to the Final Four twice, losing to North Carolina and freshman Jordan in the 1982 semifinals and North Carolina State and coach Jim Valvano, 54-52, in the title game the next year.

There were more finals in his future. His Trail Blazers lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons in 1990. He finally won a title in his hometown of Houston, in 1995. After 11 1/2 years with Portland, Drexler was traded in midseason to the Rockets.

"The trade was kind of mutual consent," he said. " ... For me, I just wanted to win."

Drexler, who was also a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, retired in 1998.

He spoke fondly of many, including Clifton Jackson, the coach who cut him in 10th grade at Ross Sterling High in Houston.

"He did it for a good reason," Drexler said. "He's a smart man."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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