At Drexler's Bar-B-Q in Houston last Friday there was a Dennis Rodman look-alike contest that attracted a motley collection of contestants—men, women and children—all coiffured in the fluorescent hues favored by the flamboyant San Antonio Spur forward and competing for playoff tickets. So many hungry Rodmaniacs showed up, the joint ran out of food and had to close early. Too many hams. Not enough ham.
Typical, isn't it? Clyde Drexler, one NBA star who can seldom be spotted off the court without a high-powered telescope, gets upstaged in his hometown at his family's restaurant. "What are we supposed to do, have a Clyde Drexler look-alike contest?" said Clyde's mother, Eunice, a part-time cook at Drexler's, which is owned by Clyde's brother James. "Clyde doesn't have orange hair or tattoos. He's just Clyde."
During his 11-plus seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, Drexler was an eight-time NBA All-Star and a member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. But around Houston, where he starred at Sterling High and at the University of Houston, he is still just Clyde. And most people outside his Friends & Family calling circle would be hard-pressed to say just exactly what Clyde is all about. But as decidedly understated as Drexler is, one could not overstate his impact on the Western Conference finals between the Houston Rockets and the Spurs, which at week's end stood tied at two games each, with Game 5 scheduled for San Antonio's Alamodome on Tuesday. While Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon (last season's Most Valuable Player) and San Antonio's David Robinson (this season's MVP) were the centers of attention, this was a drama in which the supporting cast was playing a critical role. Thus, as Drexler went, so went the Rockets. He was the Drex-factor.
The series was billed as the Texas Shoot-out, a gunfight between two cities separated by just 200 miles along Interstate 10. San Antonians revel in recalling that when a guy named Les Alexander came to San Antonio three years back with an interest in purchasing the Spurs, he met with members of a local civic group who, afraid Alexander would move the team, called an emergency meeting to ensure that they could get someone else to buy it from then Spur owner Red McCombs. Several months later Alexander bought the Rockets, which he still owns.
In Houston the citizenry responds with San Antonio jokes.
Q: What is the best thing to come out of San Antonio?
San Antonio. Houston. Heck, after the first four games it was a wonder they didn't just save gas, split the difference and finish the series in Austin. The home team lost each game, leading to speculation about the importance of a road-court advantage. "For all future home games, I'm thinking about putting my guys up at the San Antonio Marriott," said Spur coach Bob Hill. "Or maybe we'll just stay in Houston and fly home on the days of the games."
Hill was reacting to the Spurs' defeats in Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio, the most deflating drubbing in those environs since Davy Crockett and the boys went belly-up at the Alamo. The 7-foot Olajuwon tossed in 27 and 41 points in those games and even unveiled some new and improved spin moves as Houston—riding the momentum gathered in improbable come-from-behind, early-round series victories over the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns—won 94-93 and 106-96.
The Spurs, who had won a league-high 62 games in the regular season before dispatching the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers in the early rounds, responded to their dismal showings with a series of meetings. The day after Game 2, Hill assembled his Spurs just so they could yell at one another. "That little get-together was emotionally charged, fiery, confrontational, humorous and candid," said forward Sean Elliott. "Let's just say all the truths came out."