BEHIND THE INTERVIEWS: THE GLIDEJune 27th, 2012
The sixth in a series that will appear from time to time about the backdrop to the player interviews that took place for the writing of Dream Team.
From time to time you start conversing and not thinking much about what you’re saying, your brain conveniently turned to “off,” and then you see what you said in print and you think, “Holy crap! Did I say that?”
I suspect that Clyde Drexler will have that reaction to the brief excerpt from Dream Team that appeared in Deadspin on Tuesday. So I want to provide the full contextual background to my interview with The Glide.
Let me begin by emphasizing that the excerpt was accurate. But the lead-in was not. Deadspin says that “everyone on the Dream Team felt sorry for Magic because he was going to die.” That was not the context. Clyde was talking about many people in the league, not specifically the Dream Teamers.
Let me also emphasize that authors—at least this one—do not have a say as to where, when and at what length excerpts appear. I am much more comfortable about the Dream Team excerpt that is in this week’s Sports Illustrated, both the subject matter (the celebrated intrasquad scrimmage in Monte Carlo) and the fact that its length (looong) gives the breadth and depth necessary to tell a complete story.
Anyway, to the Drexler interview.
After some navigational problems—I came to the wrong entrance of the country club property on which he lives; I thought he was meeting me at the club, etc. etc.—I made it to Drexler’s house. He was in a good mood. He insisted on serving me lunch. Our conversation had an altogether pleasant tone to it. I have known him for many years and always liked him. I think the feeling is mutual.
But I knew that some of the subject matter I had to discuss with him wasn’t all that pleasant. Many people forget that the Dream Team committee picked 10 players at the beginning of the 1991-92 season and left two spots open, in effect holding a season-long audition. And, really, for NBA players, it was for one spot—the committee knew it was going to pick a college player and that was probably going to be Duke’s Christian Laettner. (See the Laettner blog on this site if you need more info.)
Anyway, Clyde, who was at the apex of his career, was not among the first 10 announced. Everyone figured that he was one of the “auditionees,” along with Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins and Joe Dumars. I thought all along it would be Drexler, and, sure enough, he was named, along with Laettner, after the regular season.
At the time, Clyde said all the right things, but I knew that he resented being what I call in the book “the add-on.” Anyone as good as Drexler would resent it.
So we started talking about it. Rather than just say, “I think I should’ve been on the team,” Clyde cast a wider net, wondering how players like Wilkens, Worthy, Isiah and, yes, himself could be excluded.
I asked the predictable question: All that is well and good, but which players would he have left off to make room?
There’s much more in Dream Team about Clyde’s answer, but the Deadspin excerpt concentrates on Magic, so that’s what I’ll do.
First, it’s extremely important to consider another factor for the sake of context: Drexler has never forgotten that he played spectacularly in the 1992 All-Star Game but the MVP award went to Magic, who had “retired” by then because of the AIDS virus but was in fact beginning a comeback that led to his inclusion on the Dream Team. I really think that that All-Star snub (as Clyde saw it) factored into his comments, which included this nugget:
“Everybody kept waiting for Magic to die. Every time he’d run up the court everybody would feel sorry for the guy, and he’d get all that benefit of the doubt.”
I didn’t feel comfortable writing that because Drexler is not a cruel man. But that’s what he said. Now, is there an element of truth to it? I can’t say for sure. What’s clear, though, is that it was extremely impolitic of Drexler to say it. And let me emphasize again that he wasn’t talking about the Dream Teamers but more the league in general.
But here’s something else that was not in the Deadspin excerpt but is in the book:
When Magic came back to the NBA after the Olympics, he faced renewed controversy, some of it coming from a Dream Team mate—Karl Malone. And in that charged atmosphere–freighted with ignorance, misunderstanding and, frankly, a dearth of information about a disease that we still can’t fully control–Drexler said this: “If Magic wants to play, I’ll play against him.”
There is a lot more in the book about Drexler’s opinions on who should’ve been left off, his feelings about being the 11th man, and his take on the behind-the-scenes negotiating about Isiah Thomas. But since Drexler has been criticized for what he said about Magic, I want to make it clear that, two decades ago, the man stood the tallest of all the Dream Teamers in welcoming Magic back to the league.