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Friday, June 22nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm  |  15 responses

Lift Off

On his 50th birthday, we pay tribute to Clyde ‘The Glide’ Drexler.

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

Who’s the best dunker in NBA history, in-game or otherwise? Personally, I have no idea.

I mean, technically speaking, I’m lying—I do have an idea. But I don’t have, or know how to reach, a definitive conclusion on the matter. The two most iconographic dunkers ever are, I think, Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. MJ’s awe-inducing hangtime and tongue-hanging-out swagger are ubiquitously enmeshed in the fabric of the sport. And Carter, well, the emergence of Vince Carter was something along the lines of discovering a new species. Carter supplanted every dunker in the world by his second NBA season (after he did this), and is responsible for arguably the most memorable dunk in the history of basketball. But the best dunker ever? I’m not sure.

You could make a case for Jordan, Vince, and numerous others. Jason Richardson, Dwight Howard, Chocolate Thunder, Skywalker Thompson, Dominique Wilkins, LeBron James. He’s only two years deep, but based strictly off of his share of SportsCenter highlights, you could even make a case for Blake Griffin.

Like I said, I’m not here to give a definitive opinion. Not because I’m unmindful or oblivious—I’ve paid close attention and have pondered the question for some time—but instead because I’m unsure. If I did give an answer, it would vacillate to the point of a cop-out—MJ one day, Vince the next, if I’m feeling rebellious maybe Shaq or Shawn Kemp, Dominique for a bit, back to MJ, back to Vince, back to I really don’t know and now my brain hurts. In this case, the Eye Test doesn’t help me deduce anything; it merely muddles my judgement and adds to the confusion. Beauty could be in the eye of the beholder, but my eyes can discern no difference between the value of an Aston Martin and a Lamborghini, feel me?

There is something that I do know, though. It’s that if you’re having the conversation, or debate, over who the best dunker in NBA history is, then you better include Clyde Drexler.

Where do we start? For one thing, it’s not entirely your fault if you don’t include him in the debate, or don’t know much about him other than his nickname (“The Glide”) and that he was on the ’92 Dream Team. If you didn’t watch Blazers or Rockets games from the mid-80’s until the mid-90’s, it’s understandable for you to view him as nothing more than a trivial name on the imaginary, extra-long list of “NBA Greats.” It’s actually kind of his fault, because Glide was never about the glitz and glamour that accompanied NBA stardom.

Drexler was, as the headline of a SLAM 14 story penned by then-Editor-in-Chief Russ Bengtson read, “Quiet As Kept.” To convey Drexler’s I’m just here to play basketball, so please just leave me alone with all the other stuff mindset, Bengtson said the following about Glide, partly because he wrote the story, but also because Drexler wouldn’t speak up for himself—Drexler never returned SLAM’s phone call for the story because, well, he didn’t care much about giving insight into his personal life or advancing a self-image:

“Clyde Drexler’s face has never been on a Wheaties box. No rap albums, no movies. Reebok don’t make the Glidenosis shoe. You won’t see Clyde on TV hawking soda he doesn’t drink, fast food he doesn’t eat or cars he doesn’t drive. The only time you will see Clyde Drexler on TV is when he’s playing basketball for the Houston Rockets. What too many people seem to have forgotten is that that’s the only time that really counts.”

And if that’s the case, boy, did Glide make it count.

If a misfortunate opponent was caught between Clyde and the basket on a fast-break, the majority of defenders were smart enough to clear the runway and seek shelter. There were a few stubborn ones, including Bill Cartwright (0:40) and David Robinson (1:38), but they learned their lesson too, just through a harsher course. Carter may have had the trampoline bounce and Jordan may have had the “Secret Stuff” from Space Jam, but Clyde Drexler had wings. His soaring jaunts to the hoop were so were effortlessly powerful that Glide’s dunks were equal parts vicious and graceful, if that makes sense.

If it doesn’t make sense, my bad, but no worries. Today, on Clyde’s 50th birthday, we celebrate with a short-yet-powerful video montage (above) that our friends at Hoops4Life compiled to bring Drexler’s greatness back to life.

Drexler was fast, long, uber-athletic, and posted statistics across the board that leave my brain dumbfounded and my stomach feeling queasy. For a 20-year old like me—one who was a puny seven years of age when Drexler’s 15-year run in the L came to a conclusion—my first glance at Drexler’s numbers had me on the verge of becoming Hitch-faced.

Ten-time All-Star, NBA Champion ( ‘95 Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith and Co.), Dream Team Gold medalist, First-ballot HOF inductee (2004) and named one of the 50 Greatest Players Ever—OK, Solid.

• 1990 NBA Finals (losing to Isiah Thomas’ Pistons in five games): 26.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.2 assists.

• 1992 NBA Finals (losing to Jordan’s Bulls in six games): 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists—In the Finals? 25, 8 and 5 on MJ? Wow.

• 1995 NBA Finals (‘Chip): 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists.

• Overall NBA Finals averages: 24.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists.

Two near quadruple-doubles:

• Blazers at Bucks, January 1986: 26 points, 9 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals.

• Rockets vs. Kings, November 1996: 25 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 10 steals.

Quadruple-double? What? Two times? Ten years apart from each other?? I’m sick.

But perhaps this stat, more so than any other, portrays the totality of Clyde Drexler’s impact on the game: Glide is one of only three players in NBA history to have posted career totals of at least 20,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists. The other two were Oscar Robertson and John Havlicek. In short, the dude undeniably did it all.

A perennial All-Star, model of consistency, NBA Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, and arguably the most aesthetically pleasing basketball player ever, it’s only right that we pay our respects. Happy Birthday, Clyde.

As for the debates and basketball banter, well, the next time you ask yourself, “Who’s the best dunker ever?” make sure you include Clyde Drexler.

Or don’t. He never cared anyway.

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  • LA Huey

    Always loved Glide Drexler’s game.

  • http://www.iowsports.com/ Blue

    At the :46 sec mark…That was one of the nastiest finger rolls ever. Happy B-Day to Ross Sterling’s Finest.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMo_HcRBnUY LakeShow

    Okay, how had I never seen that dunk on Robinson @1:35???
    ILL…
    Pure nasty…

  • T-PDX

    Correction: Clyde was on a Wheaties box, while a Blazer, in his famous Glide pose.

    Nonetheless, Happy Bday to Clyde the Glide. One of my all time favs and arguably the greatest Blazer of all time. His finals runs with Portland captivated the City, including me, at the young age of 5.

    Clyde will always be revered in Portland.

  • Lance

    Nice highlight show, Im from Portland and thank Clyde for all the killer Jams and great basketball..Happy Birhtday “Phi Slamma Jamma”

  • 123RipCity

    That last dunk against the Lakers is the closest to an in-game FT line dunk in NBA history. It was from an angle to I bet the actual distance was pretty dang close to 15′. I also saw him pretty easily dunk an 11′ 7″ hoop at the Blazers Slam Jam. I wish I could find some footage of that.

  • http://comcast eric wahl

    playing Utah he had a dunk over 7’4″ Mark Eaton in the 4th quarter that showed Clydes glide over one massive dude! Kersey’s hussel, Porters shot, Williams rebounding, and Ducks soft hook were fun to watch too. What a team that was! However if there was a Character award for someone that stayed grounded with fame… Clyde Drexler would be that man…

  • ab40

    Awesome mix. And funnyhow this is posted. I searched for triple doubles the other day o n one of them stats sites and saw what you saw with the double almost quadriple double. That’s sick. Amazing athlete, great player. Well deserved hall of famer.

  • K.a.

    No mention of looking at his dribble, slam? For shame lol. Srsly, by the time mj had tone down his dunking early 90s, clyde was still going hard. I remember a recent article on glide, elder statesmen, in loafers, dunking from a stand still, dude was mad athletic. Also, that blazer team was pretty stacked, but like adelmans kings, jus couldnt get over the hump. It was nice to have seen clyde getting one as a rocket.

  • yc

    clyde was good dunker. innovator. but vc is in different class sorry. theres vc and everybody else. reverse 360 i dont think anyone can pull it off as gracefully…

  • yc

    but clyde as player, and person was simply amazing.. miss houston days

  • Brian Newell

    I remember quite a few comparing the rivalry between Drexler and Jordan to Magic and Bird. Drexler could freaking dunk it from the free-throw line, I have yet to see any current player even come close to that. That’s why “The Glyde” is my all-time favorite Blazer. By the way, Clyde WAS on a Wheaties box. I have it in my closet stuffed with a Drexler sweatshirt my mom bought for me as a kid.

  • http://slamonline.com Datkid

    do ya’ll think clyde is better than wade or kobe? I say nah.

  • yc

    james white could dunk from free throw line. vince did it with two hands which is harder than one hand. josh smith. j.r smith, brent barry. and list goes on.

  • http://slamonline.com Eldon Khorshidi

    The “Quiet As Kept” story was from December 1996. Maybe the Wheaties box was after that?

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