Clyde Drexler knows there’s going to be a snub or two this time around that really stings. When the spots are limited exclusions are inevitable.
“There’s a lot of guys who are deserving to be on that list, man,” says the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. “Like I said, it’s a very hard choice, but you only get 75 so you gotta make it count. Whoever is snubbed it’s only because there’s so many qualified applicants.”
He’s talking, of course, about the NBA 75, the highly anticipated and updated list of the Association’s greatest players that will finally be unveiled this week. The league last took a stab at identifying its legends in 1996, albeit just 50 of them to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Drexler was obviously on the last list and will absolutely be on the the updated one. He’s interested to see if some of the players he loved watching and respected playing against—like Bernard King and Adrian Dantley, Google ‘em kids—will ultimately make it. Or whether the best Blazer since Drexler suited up for Portland during the 80s and early 90s—that would be Damian Lillard—makes the cut. Most especially, Drexler’s happy an injustice will be remedied this time around after Dominique Wilkins, egregiously and ridiculously, was left off the top 50 25 years ago.
“That was an obvious snub and it should’ve never happened,” says Drexler. “He’s one of the top 5 best small forwards to ever play the game. How are going to leave him off the top 50 list?”
Drexler, now 59 but a fan of the league since he was a little kid, has the perfect perspective to truly assess the old school legends versus the modern day stars. So he’s appropriately serving as an ambassador of the NBA 75 along with Magic Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Bob Pettit, and Oscar Robertson. That means you’ll see Drexler and others talking about the list as the league unveils segments of the 75th anniversary team during special editions of TNT’s NBA Tip-Off and ESPN’s NBA Today starting Tuesday. Late last week, we chatted up the Blazers and Rockets legend—who made 10 All-Star teams, was a five-time All-NBA player, and won a title in Houston in 1995—about how he voted and tried to get him to reveal who deserves to be included on the list, plus some some other debatable NBA topics.
“I’m just happy to be part of the process,” says Drexler. “Happy to have been blessed to be a part of the NBA, which I loved so much as a kid, and still a fan of to this day. I think I’ve always been more fan than player.”
As you’ll read, Drexler isn’t kidding.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Do you know all the names on the list?
I do not.
I was curious if they gave you some insider access. Good to know. Next question: Did you get a vote?
I did get a vote, yes.
Everyone who had a vote seems to have their own process of identifying the 75 best players in NBA history. How did you go about the process?
I grew up loving the NBA. So I’ve been a fan since the mid-60s. I have a long span, almost 50 years of watching the NBA. The guys I watched were truly phenomenal, but I also have a lot of respect for the guys who played before that era. When you dominate in your era, and the numbers show that, you have to give those guys full credit. You don’t want to leave anyone off who’s deserving, but it’s a tough process because there’s so many great players. You love ‘em all, but if you’re a fan how can you leave a Bob McAdoo off? I loved watching Bob play. Dave DeBusschere. Those guys were great players. But there’s so many of them. You have to make a decision at the end of the day and it’s never easy.
Who were the guys that you really struggled to fit onto your list?
I can’t…cut it out. Just quit it.
Gimme a little something. So I’ll ask you this: Are you more a numbers guy or eye test kind of guy when it comes to judging?
A little bit of both. Numbers have to be there. That lets you know they were present night-in, night-out. You can’t get 31 one game and then 2 the next. You gotta have numbers, right? Then leadership is the second part of my deal. Did you lead your team to victory, were you winning more games than you lost because anybody can put up good numbers on a bad team. The guys who did that got really bad ratings because they couldn’t propel their team to win. So if your numbers are real they should translate into winning. So leadership was a big part of it: did you win, did you help your teammates, did you make them better? The third part of it was did you have longevity? Did you command the double-team? Did you get that top defender every night and still produce or were you a third-tier guy who never got the best defender but you put up ok numbers? Those are the things that I look at because that’s what’s real. The guy who got the double-team every night—team’s game-planned but he still has great numbers—that guy’s on my list.
Is Dominique Wilkins on your list?
I’m just checking because the last time the NBA did one of these lists Dominique didn’t make it.
He was one of those guys who got the best defender every night, teams game-planned to stop him and he still gave you 35, 40 in our era. You know how hard that is to do night-in, night-out?
How crazy was it at the time to see Dominique left off the list when it came out since he was the eighth-leading scorer in NBA history in 1996?
That was an obvious snub and it should’ve never happened. He’s one of the top 5 best small forwards to ever play the game. How are going to leave him off the top 50 list? It’s unbelievable. But whoever did that I’m sure they had good reasons for it, but as a purist of the game, who only looks at the integrity of the game, there’s no way he’s not on that list. Dominique Wilkins was legit, you couldn’t stop the guy, and he was consistently over .500. And in the East it was tough. You had Philly and Boston, powerhouses during that time. But they were right there with them, giving them all the trouble they could. If Dominque had played with Magic and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] and Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis how good would he have been? How many championships would he have had? A ton. It wouldn’t have been fair. Also guys like Dominique, if he had a supporting cast he would’ve played toward winning, he was always a winner. But if he didn’t, he could still put up numbers and make it team competitive. But at the end of the day when you’re the eighth-leading scorer in the era of physical hand-checking and teams coming after you, doubling you night-in, night-out, that says tons about your skill level.