by Russ Bengtson

Clyde Drexler sits in a chair, absently spinning a huge ring on his left hand. It’s not ridiculously bejeweled, so it can’t be the championship ring he earned with the Houston Rockets back in ’95. And sure enough, it isn’t. “It’s my Hall of Fame ring,” the 2004 inductee says. “I’m more proud of this one, actually. Any 12th man can have a championship ring.” As for said championship ring, “I’ve never wore it except for the night we got them. Too much bling.”

This was yesterday, at the NBA Store in midtown Manhattan. After a long sit-down upstairs in the VIP room with yours truly for a feature that will appear in a future issue of SLAM, Clyde was parked at center court downstairs, filming something for New Orleans TV. Clyde is the spokesperson for the new, expanded nbastore.com, which gives those unfortunate enough to live far from the NBA Store (5th Avenue and 52nd Street, NYC) or an NBA arena the chance to purchase just about anything NBA related you can think of. In fact, next year teams will be able to acquire free agents via nbastore.com as well.*

*that’s a total lie

Glide, of course, is the official spokesperson. That’s why he’s here. “As a spokesperson for NBAstore.com it’s an easy one,” he says “because 15 years in the League, I still have ties in the League—it’s a wonderful online shopping vehicle. So we want to get the word out to all of our fans that there’s more of an assortment of merchandise, and we probably have the largest assortment of NBA, WNBA and D-League apparel in the business. So come see what we got—if you gotta do some holiday shopping, you may as well come see us.”

As part of the re-launch celebration, anyone making a purchase between November 15th and January 15th will automatically be entered in a sweepstakes where the grand prize winner will receive $1,300 in NBA gear (including the new Spalding BEAST portable backboard system) delivered personally by Clyde the Glide. Other prizes include an NBA video game package, a $500 nbastore.com shopping spree, and one of 50 $150 nbastore.com gift cards. In addition, 10 fans will receive personal phone calls from Drexler himself.

Whoever gets those calls should have plenty to talk about. A refresher: Clyde (his real name) grew up in Houston, went on to play at the University of Houston, where he joined the famed Phi Slama Jama basketball fraternity along with Larry Micheaux, Michael Young and Akeem Olajuwon. The Cougars went to the Final Four in ’82, and to the final game in ’83, losing to NC State on the final play of the game.

Drexler left Houston after his junior year, was passed over TWICE by his hometown Rockets in the ’83 NBA Draft (they took Ralph Sampson and Rodney McCray) before finally going 14th to the Portland Trail Blazers. They did not regret that choice. Despite the fact that they never won an NBA title, the Blazers of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were amongst the NBA elite, appearing in the Finals in ’90 and ’92 (where they lost to the Pistons and Bulls respectively). Drexler was a 10-time All-Star, competed in dunk contests (although he was always better in games), was a member of the ’92 Dream Team.

In 1995, with the Blazers’s window closing, Drexler was traded to the Houston Rockets for Otis Thorpe. Re-teaming with Olajuwon, Drexler helped lead the Rockets to their second straight NBA title. In 1997, he was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He retired following the 1998 season, despite leading the team in scoring, assists and steals. Immediately following his retirement he went on to coach at his alma mater, where he instantly became the best player amongst all D1 coaches—probably ever. In 2004 he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, a rare honor for an NBA player.

To be honest, Glide looks like he can still play. Trim and slim at 45, he’s content to be home in Houston with his four kids, doing color commentary for the Rockets. On this day he’s approached by countless people—when you’re 6-7 you’re hard to miss—and is asked to sign autographs and pose for photos. He doesn’t turn anyone down, although it’s apparent that some of the people have no idea who he is. (One woman obviously only knows him from “Dancing With the Stars.”) Others know his history all too well. “Clyde, I remember you from Phi Slama Jama,” one older gentleman begins. “I’m just glad you guys used to beat Texas Tech.” Glide laughs, reminiscing. “Oh, we used to KILL Texas Tech.”

As for the rest? You’ll just have to wait. You never know—maybe he’ll call you.