Not Like Mike: Clyde Drexler and David Robinson Retired On Their Own Terms

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IDecember 1, 2009

Writer's note : Thanks to an NBA, Best Buy, HP and Windows partnership, I interviewed Hall of Fame guard Clyde Drexler Sunday afternoon. I will post the full transcript of our 16-minute conversation later this week.

Sequestered in a back room of the Galleria-area Best Buy, Clyde Drexler autographed Houston Rockets items as he spoke in his unmistakable timbre.

He signed each poster with one robotic motion as I fired off questions about the college-to-pros transition, his career, Rick Adelman, and an assortment of other topics.

When I stammered through the dreaded retirement inquiry, he scoffed, as if mere mention of hanging up the sneakers insulted his intelligence.

The inquiry seemed appropriate. Allen Iverson announced his NBA departure Wednesday afternoon after 14 seasons, but multiple reports suggested he could re-sign with the Philadelphia Sixers by next week.

Iverson, like so many other Hall of Fame-caliber players, is struggling with when to call it quits.

The mercurial guard still considers himself a top five player. He takes the idea of anything other than a starting, go-to role with great offense.

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Anyone who says he has "a lot left in the tank" in a post retirement interview has not played his last game.

Did Drexler struggle with this same decision?

He laughed and then answered without pause.

"No," he said. "I wanted to retire on my own terms. I wanted to leave before they kicked me out."

Drexler retired after a first round exit in 1998, one year after a John Stockton three sank the Rockets in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals. His peers, even teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, left the game years later after less than polite shoves out the door.

His career, at least, ended after a short playoff series.

Patrick Ewing tried to hack it with the Orlando Magic in 2001 before averages of six points and four rebounds humbled him enough to quit.

The Rockets traded Olajuwon to the Raptors in August 2001. His career-low seven-point, six-rebound average in Toronto signaled the bitter end of a brilliant career.

Charles Barkley said "I'm done" so many times that he made "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" look like "Honest Abe."

How many times has he said he could score on a certain current player during a TNT broadcast? How many times has he cried that today's players often face "stiffs" while he faced Michael Jordan?

Now, a Springfield-bound guard often praised for his courage in attacking the rim, sits with a silent cell phone in hand.

Few can accept Iverson under his terms, and teams with a title shot will wait until key December and January deadlines pass to give him a look.

Drexler's quick response to my query provided a perfect parallel to a recent Hall of Fame inductee the San Antonio Spurs honored Sunday night.

David Robinson was enshrined alongside Jordan, Stockton, C. Vivian Stringer and Jerry Sloan in September.

No. 50 and No. 22 never beat No. 23 in a playoff series, but the grace with which they handled life after ruling the court puts "His Airness" to shame.

Robinson, like Drexler, had a Plan B. He could have survived without a basketball in hands, contrary to what Jordan told reporters about the 2009 class on the eve of his cruel speech.

The Spurs celebrated Robinson's induction after Sunday night's win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The ceremony offered fans the chance to canonize the center who saved the franchise from relocation and helped deliver two of San Antonio's four titles.

In his career finale at the AT&T Center, "The Admiral" scored 13 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a championship clincher.

Yet, a night meant to celebrate his basketball accomplishments became a spotlight for the Carver Academy, the school for underachieving children Robinson and wife Valerie founded.

To date, Robinson has contributed more than $11 million to the San Antonio campus. Sunday night, he asked Spurs fans to memorialize him with a donation to the academy.

No wonder, then, that the NBA named its Community Assist Award after Robinson.

Jordan's post-second retirement life has involved marriage infidelity and part management of a loser expansion franchise in Charlotte.

He used the humongous platform provided him at Symphony Hall in September to bludgeon everyone who slighted him. Even legendary coach Dean Smith and a high school teammate.

"I wouldn't want to be you guys," he said to his kids.

Father of the year material, huh?

During his speech, the camera briefly captured Robinson shaking his head in disbelief.

Drexler might have done the same.

Players at peace with decampment can let go of on-court battles to fight new ones. Such as the quickstep on Dancing With the Stars or expansion of a 5,158-acre school.

Drexler serves as a TV analyst for Rockets home games, while Robinson owns a stake in the Spurs.

Neither player gets involved in team practices or meetings. Jordan once tried to hype up the Bobcats players by invading a shootaround.

Maybe if they competed with "His Greatness" they might absorb his talent through osmosis.

For Jordan, there is nothing but basketball. He stays in relative game shape and said at the end of his induction speech that he might return to the NBA at 50.

"Don't laugh," he said.

Drexler and Robinson joke about it sometimes.

"You make me feel like I want to play again," Robinson said to the 17,161 who had come to commemorate him more than watch the Spurs and Sixers.

During a telecast a few years ago, Drexler wondered if he could help the Rockets climb out of a 20-point deficit.

Play-by-play man Bill Worrell told Drexler he should consider suiting up to assist the ice-cold team.

"Maybe I should," Drexler said with a tone that flexed both the intended sincerity and humor of the remark.

Robinson and Drexler love to discuss their careers, but they're not still trying to hit game-winners, posterize foes, or win roster spots when they do it.

Drexler said Sunday he once wanted a basketball scholarship so he could study to be an investment banker.

If not hoops, Wall Street?

"I would have been in academia," he said. "I would have tried to get an academic scholarship."

Instead, he helped form the Phi Slama Jama fraternity at the University of Houston. He played basketball because he "loved the game," he said.

Like Robinson, Drexler's distinguished career—which included three NBA Finals appearances, a championship and numerous All-NBA and All-Star selections—made him worthy of inclusion on a list of the league's 50 all-time best.

Not wanting to be like a bar patron thrown to the street by the bouncer after closing time, Drexler announced his retirement during a season in which he was scoring 15 points per contest.

On his own terms.

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