In an exclusive interview with one of the NBA’s greatest players of all time, Clyde Drexler talks with me about everything basketball. Going from the Olympics to comparisons to the Dream Team and his life after basketball, Drexler and I had a friendly 15-minute discussion.
Drexler is an absolute class act and was a pleasure to interview, talking as if we were old friends. Here is what he had to say:
Elijah Abramson: First let me say that I really appreciate the time that you are taking.
Clyde Drexler: It’s my pleasure.
EA: So what do you see as the significance of LeBron James’ triple-double in the Olympics [first in U.S. Olympic history]?
CD: He is by far and away the best player in the game. He does everything all the time.
EA: Definitely. So with LeBron and Durant doing what they’re doing, how do you think that they’re going to fair against the rest of the field, in particular, Spain? Is Team USA a lock for the gold medal?
CD: I’m really impressed with how well they’re playing. Team USA is putting it out there on the line and having great success. I was impressed when I saw them play Spain in an exhibition game before the Olympics and they beat Spain, in Spain, by 22. Spain really thought they had the U.S.
Do you think there should be an age limit for Team USA?
That was a convincing moment for me to say that I don’t think anybody is going to come close.
EA: On that same subject, there’s been a lot of talk about limiting the Olympics to the younger guys in the NBA, like Anthony Davis. Do you like that or do you prefer seeing the best the NBA has to offer going out and representing the U.S.?
CD: You can’t go wrong either way, but an age limit should be around 30.
EA: You don’t think Kobe should be playing?
CD: No, I think he should be allowed to play and it’s a wonderful thing. He’s a phenomenal player—still the best offensive player in the game. Thirty is a good age to have if you have to have a limit. As long as it’s the same [for all sports].
EA: I wrote an article comparing you and the Dream Team to Team USA. How do you think the two teams compare and what do you think of Kobe and LeBron’s comments on that comparison?
CD: Those guys have every right to say the things that they do because they’re very good. Obviously I’m a little bit biased. It would be close, but at the end of the day we would beat them by 25 to 30.
EA: So you think it’s going to be close but you’ll beat them by 25 to 30?
CD: Yes, that would be close. (laughs)
Actually…I don’t think there should be an age limit, [the older athletes] get so much fan support. Why would you want to limit that? I’m going to change my comment. There should be no age limit.
EA: What about the NBA fans and owners who are worried about injuries? Teams don’t want their best players going out there because they are making their money in the NBA.
CD: I can understand that aspect because you play hard for nine months and your body needs to rest. By doing the Olympics, your body does not get to rest. Guys have to gauge where they are and learn how to manage.
EA: Being from the Bay Area I don’t have too much affection for Bryant and the Lakers but what do you think about the comparisons that have been made between Kobe, Jordan and LeBron?
CD: Comparisons? They are all phenomenal. I’ll take any of them as teammates. (laughs)
And you got someone who might become one of the all-time greats down there in Golden State. Klay Thompson can shoot it.
EA: Yes, he played really well last season.
CD: There really should be no comparison between those guys (Kobe, LeBron, Jordan). I mean, who is to say which one is better? You could throw about 10 other guys into that mix. Just give me any of those guys. (laughs)
EA: In terms of age limit, do you like the rule that the NBA made that makes players go to college and the subsequent one-and-done road that John Calipari has instilled? Or would you prefer to see guys come out as teenagers?
CD: Like I said, as long as you keep it the same between all sports that’s good. Education is worth its weight in gold. Make no mistake about it. But remember we’re only talking about two or three kids a year.
For the most part, these kids need two to three years in college before the NBA.
But if you’re such an exception, it should be an opportunity. One-and-done is not a bad rule. All kids need to figure out how to manage their time as a young adult. But whatever you do [about age limitations], do it for hockey, baseball, basketball… The double standards are ridiculous.
EA: Talking a little bit about yourself, what was more important to you: your gold medal with the Dream Team or your NBA championship in 1995?
CD: Oh, that’s like choosing what child you like best. (laughs) You’re just trying to do the best you can. It’s just an honor to play the game and do things of that nature.
EA: Now you’re a color commentator for the Rockets, how has that been?
CD: It’s been great, keeps me involved with the game. My son and I go to a lot of the games.
EA: As a former player, do you ever get that itch to play or are you ready sit back and see your kids play?
CD: I retired at 35 in ’98 and thought there’s only one place to go and that’s downward. I retired at a good level. I was at peace after 15 years—I was lucky to play that long.
I love the game and played from 13 to 35 for almost every single day. Since I retired, I haven’t woken up one morning and said, “you know what? I’m going to go play basketball!” But I just did the S.F. Half Marathon last year, so I still stay in decent shape.
[Basketball] was a job. It was a lot of hard work but I was glad when it was over—it was like running a marathon.
EA: You mentioned you retired when you were still productive, so what do you think about Kobe’s comments about retiring at 35? He said he would retire then when he was coming into the league.
CD: I think there is a lot to be said about that because you put a lot of pressure on your cardiovascular system and it’s tough on your long-term health. I think if you’re lucky enough to make it 15 years, [you need to realize] that’s a lot.
EA: Great, thank you again for your time.
CD: You are quite welcome.
If you would like the chance to speak with Clyde Drexler, he will be chatting live with USA Basketball and Olympic fans in ConnecTV’s Watercooler this Friday, August 10 at 1:30 p.m. ET.