Friday, August 29, 2008

Flashback Friday: Remembering Duckworth


This last week we lost another large part of my youth as a basketball fan to the passage of time.

On Monday Kevin Duckworth passed due to complications of congestive heart failure. How old was he? Rather, how young was he? He died at the age of 44 -- which we all can agree, is just too soon to go.

Many bloggers have already discussed the event, their reactions to it, along with their memories of Duck.

Now I throw my hat in the ring as well.

  Kevin Duckworth Tribute [3:54] The best picture is the one with the deer. Such a gentle man, sad to see him taken from us so soon.

As a die hard Utah Jazz fan there are several franchises out there they I find it very hard to root for / feel sorry for when bad things happen to them. The first one would have to be the Los Angeles Lakers -- as they have (so far) book ended my career as a Jazz fan with 2nd round defeats (first a 7 Game series back in 1987-1988 and most recently in 2007-2008). The second team would have to be the Chicago Bulls -- as they defeated Utah in the finals twice -- partly due to some dubious calls (Game 6 of the Finals in '98 for example). The last one would be the Portland Trailblazers (though the Denver Nuggets and Charlotte New Orleans Hornets are getting up there). [Additionally the San Antonio Spurs have earned their own personal layer of hell in my heart, and don't fit into this equation.]

I still vividly remember the Jazz getting eaten up by Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Buck Williams and crew back in the 1990-1991 season, and how the Jazz lost in the West Finals to that Portland team (a team that featured Kevin Duckworth) again the next season in 1991-1992. Then Portland took the Jazz out a few seasons later in 1998-1999 -- and ended Jeff Hornacek's career in the 2nd round.

That said, losing Kevin Duckworth cannot make anyone, save for the greatest Portland hater happy.

I watched him play for many seasons and he just looked, moved and acted differently than other members of the Jailblazers Franchise. He was a starter on some very good teams and while he never averaged a double double in his career (that was over a decade long), he was an All-Star twice. He did average over 20 and 10 in the playoffs one season (1987-1988) though. As the Blazers continued to get better, and gather better talent, he appeared to be the weak link in their starting lineup. (Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Buck Williams and Duck) Eventually he became a pariah and was not always loved by the fans (which conflicts with the revised story that they apparently always loved him, which came out after he died). I seemed like a really nice, Type B personality guy who for whatever reason, ended up playing basketball as well as he could -- but that was hardly good enough for some people. In that regard he reminds me of how fans, coaches and players treated Greg Ostertag. He was doing his best, but giving your all wasn't good enough sometimes.

Duckworth throws it down!

One great moment in time that I look back at happened on some TV game back in the early 90's. The Blazers were well on their way to winning the game. Their coach (Rick Adleman) was taking out the starters in slow waves and the home crowd gave each a healthy applause. The TV crew working the game (including Bill Walton and Steve Snapper Jones) concluded that he was leaving Duckworth for last because he had been playing spectacularly well -- and deserved the positive ego boost of hearing the crowd cheering him for his good work.

It was a grand gesture that would have made Duckworth happy -- and even though I hated the Blazers, the thought of him -- the underdog -- getting his day in the sun, made me happy.

Unfortunately there would be no happy ending, as after all the starters (save Duckworth) were on the bench and the celebrations started Adleman called a time-out, and Duckworth was substituted out in this manner -- he never got a chance to hear his name called over the arena PA system, he never got his applause, he never got the love that he deserved. And that really sucks.

The only other great Duckworth memory that I have was back when my brother and I would play video games together. We happened to be playing NBA Live '95 on the computer. He was using the keyboard, and I was playing with the mouse (which you can imagine was very hard to do). We were the Washington Bullets and playing against a much better team. It was a close game and many people had fouled out. I controlled Kevin Duckworth with the mouse, and as time was ticking down was able to push the computer's ball handler out of bounds (without a foul being called), thus giving us a final chance to win the game. (Which we did with a Rex Chapman buzzer beating three)

Anyway, Duckworth had career averages of 11.8 ppg (46.8 fg%, 73.6 ft%) and 5.8 rpg. His best seasons were between 1987-1988 and 1990-1991 where he scored at least 16 ppg every year and played around 30 mpg. He was an important cog in several NBA Final's teams, and did a great deal for the community after his death. I am sad to see him go. Why couldn't God have taken Bonzi Wells instead?

R.I.P. Kevin Duckworth.