MORE ON CLYDE, AND NO, THIS ISN’T FUNJune 28th, 2012
A print interview is essentially a private conversation. So every fiber of my being detests releasing part of the transcript of the interview I did with Clyde Drexler in October, 2010, that has caused Drexler so much pain … and quite a lot of pain to myself.
An excerpt of Dream Team was in Tuesday’s Deadspin. The way the excerpt was presented it appeared to be saying that Drexler said his Dream Team mates pitied Magic and were waiting for him to die. That is not the case. As I have said repeatedly, context is important. Drexler was talking about a league-wide feeling that existed back then, not a feeling that existed on the Dream Team.
Also, Deadspin says in its lead-in that Drexler was “not pleased” that Magic kept his spot on the Dream Team. I never wrote that. It might’ve been inferred by some reading selected quotes. However, Clyde did think that there were others more deserving than Magic based on Magic’s abilities at that time. Heck, Drexler thought that four players should’ve been on the team who weren’t. A fuller discussion of that is in the book.
At the same time, I did not fabricate quotes. In 40 years as a journalist, I have never been accused of that until now. So here is the transcript of the relevant parts. Again, in the wider space provided by a book, all this becomes clearer.
This part of our interview began with me asking about Magic as the ceremonial captain of the Dream Team. The question had nothing to do with HIV. I wasn’t even thinking about HIV.
ME: You guys deferred and sort of decided, or it just kind of evolved, that Magic would be the spokesman. Does that sound correct?
CLYDE: Magic didn’t even play that year.
ME: I know. I just mean that once you got over there …
CLYDE: If you remember, Karl Malone said he didn’t want to play with Magic, and …
ME: I remember.
CLYDE: He was like, ‘I don’t want to play with Magic. If he has HIV, I don’t want to catch it.’ [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The attention about Malone saying that came after the team returned to the U.S.; Clyde may have thought it came before the Games, or he may know something I don’t know about Malone’s feelings before the Games.]
CLYDE: So there was a lot of trepidation, a lot of ignorance. I was one of the few guys who stepped up after Karl made those statements and said, ‘Hey, the doctors say you can’t catch it unless you get blood-to-blood. I will play with Magic whatever he decides to do.’ That was the all-star game, that was everything, leading up to the Olympics.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I make it clear in the book that Clyde did step up and support Magic. But it happened after the team came back from Barcelona. I have no doubt that Clyde would’ve supported Magic’s right to play before the Games, too. That is not the issue.]
CLYDE: Magic didn’t play that year. The problem was, if you caught HIV, the virus, back then, people thought you were dead.
ME: No question.
CLYDE: Everybody kept waiting on Magic to die. So every time he was around they were feeling so sorry for the guy and he was getting all those benefits of the doubt. Had we known he was going to live this long, I would’ve gotten the MVP of the 92 Game. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: He meant the All-Star Game, of which Magic was the MVP] and he probably would not have made the Olympic team. You know, think about it.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Clyde is chuckling as he says this. But I never thought he was kidding.]
CLYDE: He [Magic] comes across like, ‘All this is my stuff.’ Get outta here, dude. There were a lot of differences that game.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m not sure what Clyde meant by “game.” I assume he meant the aforementioned All-Star Game. I think it stuck in his craw that he was not the MVP; Clyde denies that. Reasonable men can disagree.]
CLYDE: He [Magic] was on the declining end of his career. All of that was prevalent.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: At that point, the conversation changes. I ask Clyde how he felt about not being one of the first 10 players picked.]
ME: It had to be a little difficult, right?
CLYDE: To me, you only control what you control. So stuff like that don’t bother me. But if you want to know what I really think, how can you leave off Worthy, Dominique and Isiah, three guys who really deserved to be on that team. And you leave me off, too? The runnerup for the MVP? And my team is in the Finals every year? [Drexler’s Blazers were finalists in 1990 and 1992]. If you really want to know what I thought, I said it then.
ME: Well, who would you have left off then?
CLYDE: You look at production that year. What did Bird do? What did Magic do?
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: We don’t pursue that line after I say, off the record, that they were on the team because they did nothing less than save the league. Clyde brings up another Dream Team player he might not have had on the team. He also talks about Isiah Thomas being left off. His response is in the book and is interesting. It has nothing to do with Magic.]
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I ask about the famed intrasquad scrimmage in Monte Carlo; Drexler had a minor injury that day and didn’t participate, though he did play in other scrimmages. We talk about Magic and Jordan woofing on each other.]
CLYDE: They were having fun with that. That was their way of motivating each other. The rest of us didn’t get into that. But Magic, being who he is, would always, [AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS IS WHERE CLYDE GOES INTO A DECENT MAGIC IMPRESSION]. ‘Come on, Clyde.’ He’d talk all that noise and get Jordan all pumped up. And he [Magic] really couldn’t play then. His skills were declining. He couldn’t guard his shadow.
None of this, in full context, is all that shocking. Others have said they thought Magic was going to die. Others have said that his defensive skills had declined by the time of Barcelona. Others have been bemused by Magic’s cheerleading. But you put some of the quotes together in a certain way and it sounds like a blanket Dream Team indictment of Magic, led by Drexler. It does not come across that way in the book.
People routinely think that writers do things to “increase sales”—I heard that yesterday—and that I am probably “happier than hell” this is going on. I heard that, too. If you think that, man, you haven’t been around me for the last 48 hours.
Drexler and I had several conversations yesterday. I think we came around to express our mutual respect. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for him on that score, but I think so. However, neither of us is happy about the whole thing.
Out of fairness, I include the statement that Drexler released yesterday. Here it is:
“I have nothing but love and respect for Magic Johnson and all that he has accomplished in basketball and in life. I always took pride in being a great teammate throughout my career and I would never have made the statements that were reported in Jack McCallum’s book. I was one of Magic’s biggest supporters during that difficult period in his life and I take great exception to having such comments attributed to me. Magic and I have a friendship that goes back more than 28 years and I would never say such hurtful things. I have reached out to Magic to assure him that I did not say those things and to apologize to him and his family for even having to respond to something as baseless as this.”
Here is my shorter statement: I did not fabricate quotes. The rest is in the book.