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Kevin Duckworth, R.I.P.

Drew BartonAnalyst IAugust 27, 2008

Billy got us tickets to the Blazer game somehow, some way. I still to this day cannot figure out how he did it. We both grew up in homes where getting a quarter to buy a pack of baseball cards was a huge expenditure, so going to a game was never part of the equation.

We saw the Blazers a few times a year when they were on free television. But for this game we had tickets.

So we climbed to the top of the old Memorial Coliseum. We sat right in front of the organ player. We didn't care...we were in the building! And we got to see our favorite players.

For me it was the hard-charging semi-maniac Jerome Kersey. For Billy, and for thousands of other fans, it was Kevin "Duck" Duckworth.

Every time Duck touched the ball the place went nuts with duck chants and duck calls...calls using the whistles hunters use to sound like a real duck with ruptured lungs.

When he shot that one-handed mid-range jumper we knew it was going in. Sure, Duck had no inside game to speak of. He was a little bit slow-footed, not particularly tough inside, not a great rebounder, and not even particularly strong at interior defense. But we loved him and he worked for the Blazers.

His ability to hit that mid-range jumper would pull the shot-blocking monsters like Mark Eaton, Akeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson away from the basket which allowed the slashers like Clyde Drexler and Kersey to penetrate the lane for easy baskets. He fit the team perfectly.

Unfortunately, in 1989 he ran into someone who performed the same role but did it better. In the NBA finals Duck was endlessly frustrated by Detroit Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer. To this day most Blazer fans blame Duck for the loss in those finals, which is unfair.

To be sure, Laimbeer did badly outplay him and not only neutralized Duck but dominated the center play. It was a turning point in Duckworth's career and he was never quite the same after that. He was a very sensitive man who took the sometimes harsh criticism very much to heart.

Looking back, it is clear Duck was the right player at the right time. A two-time All-Star, without Duck the Blazers would probably not have made the finals against the Pistons and the Bulls. Regardless, they would not have been the same team.

It was the engaging personality of Duckworth that made so many of us into fans. We loved the big man's smile and the way he played the game. His popularity rebounded and after his playing career ended he returned to do community relations work for the Blazers. It was a good choice as we still love him.

Unfortunately, he passed away at just 44 years of age. Too young. He will surely be missed as a community relations guy. But most of all he will be missed as a direct link to the time when the Blazers were winning games with quality guys like Buck Williams, Terry Porter, and yes, the man himself, Kevin Duckworth.

Rest in peace, big man. Thanks for all the memories. We love you.

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