His answer to my dreaded retirement questions inspired me to write a column , comparing the ease with which he called it quits to another Texas great, David Robinson.
Here is the full transcript of my 16-minute conversation with Drexler.
Clyde Drexler : My memory is not what it used to be.
Robert Kleeman: You still have a lot to contribute.
CD : (Chuckles)
RK: Let’s talk about technology—the focus of today’s event. Did you ever imagine sitting on the bench, you would one day buy a phone and use it to Twitter and check Facebook?
CD : I had no idea. I remember back in the 80s, I had a car, had a car phone. Of course, you had to leave it in the car.
But that was cutting-edge technology. That would be so archaic, Neanderthal now. Actually that was 1995. I knew technology was just going to get better.
Besides, I travel a lot, I think I was going to Japan a lot in the 80s and 90s, and the average school child 8-9 years of age had a cell phone in their little uniform, cell phone pocket and everything.
Back then, cell phones were not that universal in the States, so you got to see what it was going to become. I’ve always paid attention to technology. It is changing the way we live for the better.
RK: Now you have sports leagues, the NBA, crafting rules about Twitter use.
CD : Sports leagues will keep up with the latest technology because that’s the way to reach the fanbase. And every avenue from Twitter to Facebook, and even when they had MySpace, was a viable opportunity.
Of course, with nba.com and all those wonderful Web sites that go through that, they’re highly revolutionized. The technology industry is a movement in the NBA.
David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, he loves technology. And for a guy of his age to be that big on technology is very uncommon. But when you have leaders who love technology, everyone else has to follow suit.
RK: How has the Internet changed the way we watch and critique sports? It ‘s great that you can go online, watch a game, chat with folks about it, but it’s also increased athlete scrutiny.
CD : [Tiger Woods] runs into a fire hydrant, and his windows are broken out with a four-iron.
That’s hysterical. The people involved may not think that’s funny, and they would like to have their privacy obviously, but when things like that happen, I think that it’s a lot of scrutiny, but at the same time people love you.
They want to know everything about you, and it’s a great opportunity to do just that.
So twittering and all that stuff, they’re ways for the average man to keep up with players, participants, other fans who love the game, and a way to share ideas and talk about what happened.
As fans we love to talk about what we saw.
And if everybody has the same opinion then that’s pretty cool, but quite often you find people, things that happen in the game. It’s not rocket science, everyone knows what’s happening.
So fans are very knowledgeable, and I think it’s good feedback for players and coaches.
RK: In the Jordan era when the Internet was still in its infancy, athletes were not subject to the same scrutiny that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are now.
CD : We didn’t have as much media scrutiny; neither did the group a decade before we started. Now, you have to watch everything you do. You know, we got in trouble, but no one ever heard about it. These guys, they get in trouble and the whole world knows. So you have to be a little more careful and lead a more private life.
We lived very normal lives. No one cared what we did off the floor. That was our private time, personal time. Now, your personal life is an open book, so you have to be aware of that.
Ask me, which generation would I have liked to play in?
The generation with less scrutiny, obviously.
RK: Was there a moment as a youngster when you knew basketball was your calling?
CD : There’s never a moment when you figure out, hey, this is going to be the one. As a youngster, you just do things you love to do, and if you love it enough, you’ll get better at it.
My goal was to be good enough, so I could get a college scholarship and a great education. I wanted to be an investment banker, and I didn’t want my mom to have to pay for that, and I wanted to do it myself.
Basketball was my way of trying to get a college scholarship. So, I played because I loved it. If I hadn’t played basketball, I would have been in academia and tried to get an academic scholarship.
Kids have to do things they love, and if they’re passionate about it, and they do it with some vigor, things will always work out.
RK: Who was your favorite player to watch growing up?
CD : As I was coming up, I loved to watch Julius Erving. George Gervin was pretty darn good as well.
RK: The finger roll.
CD : They had the greatest nicknames, but they could also play. They were about my height, so I really watched everything they did.
CD : Rick is a player’s coach. He’ll come up and ask you, “What do you think you want to do in this situation?” As opposed to trying to dictate as most coaches do. So, he gives you a level of respect that’s unprecedented.
You feel very comfortable working with him. That’s his biggest asset. Because he’s a former player, he knows what you’re going through. He tries to make it as easy as he can for you, and puts you in a position to succeed.
RK: And he’s adaptable.
CD : He doesn’t care. He just gets it done. He’s a disciplinarian, but he’s not a strict disciplinarian. There’s a difference. It’s not his way or the highway. It’s, “What are we going to do to make this happen? What can we do together? How can I help you?”
He has the right approach.
RK: He manages to get the best out of whatever talent fills his roster. With no Yao Ming in the middle, he has this Rockets team running. Everyone from Luis Scola to Aaron Brooks gets up the floor. Could you talk about that?
CD : He doesn’t have a set idea of what he would like to do. He coaches by his personnel. So, if you’re a set it up team, he’s going to set it up. If you’re a team that likes to run, a team more conducive to the running game, he’ll run with it.
He doesn’t really care. He just wants to be effective. He’s trying to get the most out of what he has, and that’s really what coaching is all about.
On the professional level, everyone pretty much knows how to play the game. It’s all about buying into the system and doing it collectively.
He gets you to do that very well. That’s one of his big skills.
RK: Only two of his teams during his career, both in Golden State, have posted losing records. Is he a Hall of Famer?
CD : Rick, when you look at his record and his winning percentage, the team’s that he’s had that were very competitive, I would…He just passed Jack Ramsey for most wins.
Jack is a Hall of Famer. Rick has to be one, too, if he has more wins. That’s pretty obvious.
My rookie year in 1983, Jack Ramsey was the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. When I went there, Rick Adelman was being interviewed for an assistant coach’s job.
They were testing me to see if they would draft me, and Rick was going through the interview process to be an assistant coach. So, I’ve been around Rick a long time.
RK: What is the toughest transition a player makes from the college game to the pros?
CD : In college, you could possibly be the best player on your team and the best player in your conference, and you can do that for three or four years.
When you get to the NBA, you might not be the best player; you might not even be a top 10 player on your own team. So, that’s an adjustment.
You have to adapt to learning a role and trying to do whatever you can to help the team. You may have been strong in college, but when you get to the NBA, you may not even be the fifth strongest guy on your own team.
It’s the best of the best, and a lot of people don’t understand what that means. That means it’s the best competition in the world, and everybody who thinks that they’re good is fighting for those positions.
There are only 400-plus, 420 positions a year, and a lot of those don’t change hands. Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, they’re going to be there next year.
So, about 220 of them are going to be there, maybe 320. So, you’ve got 100 or so people who may change or fluctuate every year.
You’ve got a better chance of becoming an astronaut than an NBA player if you look at the numbers.
RK: How tough is the defensive transition?
CD : (Laughs)
It’s like the competition raises exponentially. You have to get better, stronger, faster, and you have to learn the NBA system—how we play, how the game is played. That’s not easy.
The game is much quicker and faster, and guys are hitting you all the time. You’ve got to keep your cool; you’ve got to show the skill that got you there. At the same time, you have to fit in with your teammates.
You have a lot of free time, but let me tell you something, you’re moving constantly, and you gotta’ keep up.
It’s not an easy life. It’s a great job, but it’s not as glamorous as most people would assume it to be.
RK: Going back to this year’s Rockets, the absence of Yao necessitates that they run. Can they do that and keep up the stingy defense of year’s past?
CD : Well, if you run, you’re going to give up more points. You’re not going to always have five guys back defensively.
You’re going to give up some points if you run, but if you score more than you give up, you’ll probably win more games.
That sounds funny, but to be an effective running team and to try to be a good defensive team, you need a good shot blocker because one good shot blocker makes everybody else better defensively.
When you’ve got four guys going down on the break every time, there’s always going to be that one guy back, so when the offensive team comes back at you, you’ve got a shot blocker, and it creates havoc for the other team.
If you don’t, you’re giving up layups.
RK: The Rockets lack that shot blocker. The best defensive big, Chuck Hayes, is 6-6, and the tallest player is an import still trying to learn the NBA system. How do they overcome that?
CD : Chuck Hayes gets a lot out of his abilities. He’s 6-6, and as a center, he uses his quickness and fast hands to make it work. David Anderson is the guy you’re referring to as an import.
CD : He’s a pretty good player, but he’s still finding his way around the NBA. It takes a while to get adjusted to how quick and fast everyone is.
Centers get their shots blocked by point guards. That doesn’t happen often in college or Australia. You see point guards coming from behind and blocking shots because they’re such great athletes.
RK: Nate Robinson on Yao comes to mind.
CD : Exactly, that’s my point. The Rockets are doing a good job. They just have to keep playing hard and continue to figure out how they’re going to get better each and every game.
Chuck Hayes has been good so far. Carl Landry and Scola have been excellent. They’re going to have to continue to play well until Yao gets back and Tracy [McGrady].
About .500, about like the Rockets.
RK: Allen Iverson announced his decision to retire after 14 seasons, but reports surfaced soon after that he could return to the Phillies.
CD : The 76ers. (Laughs)
RK: Brain fart.
How hard is it to hang up the sneakers when you’ve been that good for so many years?
CD : It’s not hard. It just depends if you’re going out on your terms. Iverson’s a special player, and he obviously needs the ball. Most teams have that covered, so bringing in a guy who needs the ball, the only place you can put him is on the second unit.
When the first unit is resting, let him go out and do his thing. A good coach can make that work, but he has to be willing to take that next step and come off the bench.
It’s a two-prong deal. As you get older, your skills decline. If you were shooting 41 percent before you got older, when you get older, you’re shooting 38 percent, 37 percent. You’re not as effective.
He has to try to find a way to get by that and play smarter, and that’s something he can do, but he’s got to make that next adjustment as a senior player in the league.
RK: How did you know when to retire?
CD : I retired after 15 years because I wanted to, and I left on my terms. I left still playing at a very high level. I was lucky; I was one of the lucky guys.
I didn’t give them a chance to throw me out.
RK: Duncan has suggested he might retire after 2012, when he should still have a lot of game left to contribute. It seems he wants to go out as one of the top players in the game.
CD : Well, you want to get out before they throw you out. That was my thought.
I didn’t want to be a liability for anyone. When I left, I was still one of the leading scorers on the team, one of the leading rebounders; one of the leading assist guys, still leading the team in steals.
So, that’s pretty good production. I just left because I thought it was time.
You don’t want to ever overstay your welcome. You go to dinner at someone’s house, you want to get out before they kick you out.