In the fifth installment of ESPN’s The Last Dance docu-series, Michael Jordan recalls feeling disrespected by being compared to Houston Rockets great Clyde Drexler.
On Sunday, ESPN’s The Last Dance docu-series continued with parts five and six, which gave basketball fans what they had been waiting all week for. The fifth episode was more noteworthy for Houston Rockets fans, as Clyde Drexler was brought to the forefront of the conversation.
Michael Jordan recalled the 1992 NBA Finals in which the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers faced off. But perhaps the biggest storyline, as it pertains to Rockets fans, was the comparison between Michael Jordan and former Houston Rockets legend Clyde Drexler.
As usual, the ultra-competitive Jordan felt disrespected by the comparison to the then Trail Blazers All-Star. Although Drexler may not have been Jordan, he amassed an impressive resume of his own, which includes 10 All-Star selections, five All-NBA selections, and an NBA championship ring.
Drexler had the unfortunate timing of having his career timeline directly parallel Jordan’s, which led to him constantly being overshadowed and forgotten. Drexler is so much more than the player Jordan lit up in 1992, which has now become infamous with “The Shrug”.
Next: The Glide's early days
Drexler’s early basketball years
Anyone who grew up in Houston in the 1970s and 1980s knows Drexler’s roots. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana Drexler and his family moved to Houston when he was a child. Drexler would go on to attend Sterling High School in Houston where he became a two-sport athlete, as he made both the baseball team and also became a star on the hardwood.
But it wasn’t always easy for Drexler, as he failed to make the basketball team in his sophomore year of high school, which may come as a surprise to many. But Drexler reached a growth spurt during the summer heading into his junior year, which left him playing center, due to his bigger frame. With height and size on his side, Drexler never looked back, as he took his talents to the University of Houston.
When first arriving at the University of Houston, Drexler recalled the anger some fans had that he was recruited. In his book “Clyde The Glide: My Life in Basketball” Drexler remembered legendary coach Guy Lewis receiving not-so-kind letters about the new recruit. During an interview in 2003, Lewis recalled initially receiving hate mail from Houston supporters and alumni for recruiting Drexler, as they felt that he was not good enough to play for the school.
Drexler would go on to prove those doubters wrong, as he, Michael Young, and Akeem Olajuwon (later Hakeem Olajuwon) would form Phi Slama Jama and take Houston to two Final Four appearances. Although Drexler’s stellar collegiate career didn’t result in an NCAA title for the Cougars, his legendary career was just beginning.
Next: Drexler in Portland
Drexler arrives in Portland
Drexler became the 14th overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, which resulted in him joining a mediocre Portland Trail Blazers team. As evidenced by their draft position, the Blazers weren’t a bottom dweller by any means, but they also weren’t serious contenders either.
It was slow-going in his rookie year, as Drexler only averaged 7.7 points in 17.2 minutes per game, which was the natural acclimation period for an NBA rookie. His second year is when everything started to come together, however, as he averaged 17.2 points per game.
Drexler topped that during his third season in the league as he averaged 18.5 points per game which led to his first All-Star selection. Although the Blazers went 40-42 during that season, they became the only team to beat the eventual champion Boston Celtics at the Garden, where they finished 40-1.
The Blazers would slowly start to rise and Drexler continued to make All-Star team after All-Star team, as he had finally reached stardom. In the 1989–90 season, Drexler led the Blazers to the NBA Finals, averaging 26.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, but his team lost to the Detroit Pistons within five games.
In the 1990–91 season Drexler led Portland to a franchise-best 63–19 record, but the best was still yet to come. The Blazers’ 1991-92 season resulted in a match against the Chicago Bulls and the player he would mirror in many ways throughout his career: Michael Jordan. That season Drexler finished second in the MVP voting behind, you guessed it, Jordan.
Even with the disappointment of losing to Jordan’s Bulls in the NBA Finals, Drexler’s career continued to rise as he was part of the original 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Before leaving Portland Drexler would become the all-time leader in points, rebounds, and steals in Blazers’ franchise history. To this day Drexler still leads the Blazers in points and steals, which is beyond impressive.
Next: Drexler comes home
Drexler joins the Houston Rockets
The 1993-94 season was Drexler’s last full year in Portland, and the Blazers’ championship days were behind them. Drexler’s Blazers were were eliminated in the first round by his collegiate teammate Hakeem Olajuwon and the eventual champion Houston Rockets. The following year the Blazers were stuck in mediocrity and made the blockbuster trade to send Clyde Drexler and Tracy Murray to the Rockets in exchange for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola, and a first-round draft pick.
Although the Rockets were coming off their first championship, they struggled out the gates and simply didn’t have the start to the season that they had hoped for. Rockets management felt that the team was not good enough to repeat as champions and decided to make the huge trade.
It took time for the Rockets and Drexler to gel, as the players from the 1994 championship team weren’t happy with the trade when it first happened. The Rockets would eventually mesh and Drexler went on to average 21 points, seven rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game.
Drexler really showed his worth, proving why he was an all-time great. The Rockets were underdogs in the first-round series against the Jazz, and Drexler helped finish the Jazz off with 41 points in Game 5 and 31 points in Game 6, which was the closeout game.
Drexler and Olajuwon would lead the Rockets to their second consecutive championship, as they later swept the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals. The Rockets would come close to a 3-peat in the 1996-97 season, but they eventually fell to the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals.
Even in Drexler’s last season he still averaged 18.4 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.9 rebounds. It can’t be emphasized enough how great of a season that is, especially with that being Drexler’s 16th season.
Next: Drexler's impressive resume
Drexler’s impressive resume
As mentioned earlier, Drexler’s basketball life coincided with Michael Jordan’s, which took attention away from Drexler’s legendary career. With Jordan being the best player in the world for the majority of Drexler’s career, it kept people from realizing Clyde the Glide’s overall greatness.
Drexler’s many career accomplishments are outlined below:
10 All-Star selections
5 All-NBA selections
All-Time Blazers leader in points and steals
1992 Olympic Gold Medal
1994-95 NBA Champion
Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame induction as NBA player
Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame induction as member of Dream Team
If Drexler had played in the 1970s or 2000s he would be more revered than he is now, as he is viewed as one of the best fast-break players in NBA history. On top of that, Drexler was a fairly decent passer, a great rebounding guard, and a thief in the passing lanes. Drexler was so much more than just a highlight reel.
When thinking of Drexler and Jordan, think of several other all-time great comparisons. Was Peyton Manning’s career any less because of Tom Brady? Is Prince not an all-time great beacyse he was in the same era as Michael Jackson? The answer to these questions is that they are still great, but they just happened to share the stage with people who were legendary.
The Last Dance made Clyde Drexler into nothing more than a foil for Jordan on his way to another title, as Jordan felt “disrespected” by being compared to Drexler. Even the most dedicated Drexler fan will never say he was better than Jordan but that shouldn’t take away from the greatness of Drexler.
Drexler was one of the top shooting guards for several years in his career, which is not only a great accomplishment but also why the name Clyde “The Glide” Drexler should never be forgotten.