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Archive for August, 2008

The recent passing of Kevin Duckworth touched countless people who never had the chance to say goodbye.

Now they’ll have that chance.

On Saturday morning at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, family, fans and the Trail Blazers organization alike will turn out in droves to pay their final respects. For some though, Duckworth – known simply as Duck to those who followed his career with Portland in the early 90’s – was more than just another basketball player.

He was a teammate; a brother in the camaraderie sense of the word; a friend beyond the meaning of the word. Yet for Alaa Abdelnaby, Duckworth will forever be remembered as “BIG SEXY”.

“Kevin was the first person who called me when I arrived in Portland – we had the same agent,” said Abdelnaby who played with the Blazers from 1990-92.

Nowadays, the 6-10 former post player who spent five seasons in the league, Alaa works as an analyst for NBATV and NBA Radio on SIRIUS. The loss of Duckworth, 44, from congestive heart failure was certainly a shock admitted Abdelnaby who learned of his dear friend and one-time teammates’ death after touching down from a trip to China.

Today and in the coming days though, Alaa’s heart and mind will be with Duckworth and his family. He will never forget how Duckworth personally touched his life with one afternoon lunch at a suburban Portland chain restaurant back in 1990.

“I ordered the blackened chicken Alfredo and Kevin had a Cobb salad. I never remember what I order, especially for a lunch, let alone one 18-years-ago. But Duck made it memorable by how incredibly warm and generous he was.

“I was nobody and here was the starting center taking me out and showing me my new city. This is what Kevin was like. I remember making him laugh and thinking this guy is not just my teammate but possibly a friend. For someone who was in awe of this guy, he sure made me feel like one of the guys and for someone who was the only rookie on that team I felt that I had met someone who could be there for me whenever I needed him.

“That was Kevin.”

While Duckworth played 11 years in the league, he’ll most be remembered for his time spent in Portland from 1986-93 as part of two Western Conference champion squads in 1990 and 1992. Duckworth also represented Portland as an All-Star in 1989 and 1991. At 7-0, he was the inside presence for the Blazers alongside head coach Rick Adelman’s Rip City core of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams. Once his playing days concluded, Duckworth remained an extension of the Blazers family serving the organization as a community ambassador, particularly on the Oregon coast.

Yet as many will likely share stories and say fond farewells come Saturday morning at Duckworth’s memorial service, Abdelnaby can’t help but cherish the memory of the man people affectionately called Duck.

“People called him Duck and I liked it, but I felt since he was larger than life, he deserved an appropriate moniker. After being around the fellas on the team for awhile you find out things about each of them,” Abdelnaby continued.

“Duck loved clothes like I do and because of his years in the league, he had accumulated a heck of a wardrobe. It just hit me one day: “BIG SEXY”. And you know what? He loved it. It evolved after awhile to just “SEXY”. So, one day my rookie year he invites me to his house and takes me to the basement where he had his playroom and up on the wall was a custom-made neon sign with him shooting one of his patented jump-hooks; above him read in big letters “BIG SEXY”. His girlfriend got it made for him because he loved the nickname.

“I remember feeling like I was affecting his life no matter how small. I was accepted. Needless to say, he was and always be “BIG SEXY.”

Duckworth’s shocking passing conjures up different memories to different people. Amazingly enough, such recollections share one thing in common: they all breathe happiness. In other words, you can’t help but smile when thinking or hearing the name Kevin Duckworth. That’s why it is time to celebrate Kevin, regardless if you are a faithful Blazers fan, casually follow the league, are a former teammate or coach or even a simple sportswriter. 

He will be greatly missed, yet the memories of Duckworth will never fade.

“God has sitting next to him one of the best human beings I’ve had to honor to know,” Abdelnaby said.

“Rest in peace “BIG SEXY.”

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The details are a bit hazy, but the running commentary was unforgettable.

Somewhere among the 41 wins in Portland last season, I rolled up on Travis Outlaw just after a Blazers home victory in the locker room and after he finished his customary weight room session (the guy plays 26 minutes, and then heads into ride a stationary bike and lift weights. Some say it’s his shy way of avoiding the media. Travis maintains it’s a habit).

I remember he had a good outing – which became a calling card last year for Outlaw with him playing his best basketball as a pro – and one particular response he made.

It was classic Outlaw.

Travis and I chatted about the game, about what it was like from his first days in Portland back in 2003 to what the team is building upon now – or then in this flashback case. With his typical aw-shucks country-boy response, Outlaw said how crazy it was and that he liked the cheers more than the boos he used to hear at the Rose Garden.

That was it….

That is until I hung around a bit afterwards to talk to Travis after the postgame interview.

Right then, I explained to Travis in no great detail that I have this friend who thinks Outlaw is a “thug”.

In all actuality, my buddy (can’t recall who, proving the details are still hazy) brought it up in passing one night when we talked about the maturation of the Blazers and how far they have come character wise in the last few years.

Apparently my buddy didn’t think Travis was the “good dude” type. I had to shut him down on that one instantly. I looked at him like he had a third eyeball. And as I began telling Travis about my friend’s “thug” opinion of him, all Travis could do was cock his head, and ask with his Starksville twang:

“Why he say that?”

If you know Travis at all, you can hear him now.

“Why he say that?”

I told Travis I wasn’t sure. Told him I set my friend straight. Let him know Travis was one of the nicest guys around.

“Is it the way I walk,” Travis jokingly asked as he grabbed my arm.

We both started laughing. Had to tell him I wasn’t sure. Didn’t get a detailed answer on the matter.

“Why he say that?”

That’s why there is no one like Travis, and even more reason to keep him around as long as possible.

He’s an amazing talent on the court, but even better of a guy off the floor when it comes to just shooting the bull with one and all. He could have easily went about his business. Hit the shower. Not said anything. Avoid the conversation. I’m sure after a long night at work, all Travis probably wanted to do was just go home and eat and play video games. But instead, he ribbed with me. Allowed me to see him for who he is  once again– a real good guy.

You’d be surprised. Having covered the league for five years, that doesn’t happen everyday. Believe me. But it happens more often than not in Portland – a team full of easy going, real people – and Travis is one of those guys.

That’s why I’d hate to see him go…..if the rumors floating around are even somewhat true….and I hope they are not. I read about Outlaw being rumored to head to Memphis this morning, wrote about it this afternoon after getting a quick “no comment” from Kevin Pritchard, but still am trying to convince myself this rumor is merely blog fodder coming out of Memphis.

In this case, I know what Travis will say when and if he reads the winds blowing the rumor mill round and round with his name in the middle.

Why he say that?

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Passing Time With Plimpton

Was it an easier time back then or just different?

This is what quietly drifted across my mind today when a mid-morning chat with my brother-in-law Jeff Burdick turned to the topic of Muhammad Ali and more particularly, George Plimpton.

The conversation jumped from a book Jeff’s currently reading on Ali (the title escapes me) to Leon Gast’s 1990 documentary When We Were Kings to Plimpton (a second string boxing writer for Sports Illustrated at the time)  covering the “Rumble In The Jungle”  fight in Zaire between Ali and then heavyweight boxing champ George Foreman on October 30, 1974. And if you haven’t read Plimpton’s Shadow Box, please stop reading this entry and go pick up a copy.

Please.

You won’t regret it.

Simply for this: Plimpton coined participatory journalism – or at least that’s the way I’ve always understood it. Genius; it’s really the only word I can use to describe Plimpton and his writing style and genre he masterly created. It wasn’t enough for him to just write about the athletes of his choice. Nope. He experienced them by nearly becoming them, or at least embracing their first hand experience the best he could. Plimpton didn’t let his inability as an athlete prevent his abilities as a writer.

In Shadow Box, Plimpton stepped into the ring against the light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore. (that’s boy George and Archie in 1956 above)

In Paper Lion, he took snaps as a member of the Detroit Lions with confessions of a last string quarterback.

In Bogey Man, George spent a month on the PGA tour.

He hit the baseball diamond in Out Of My League and skated on thin ice slapping pucks with Open Net.

Plimpton may have casually used the “amateur” when participating and writing sports books, but he was by all means and measures a profound “professional”.

You don’t find Plimpton today. Don’t bother looking. The closest you’ll get is only by reading Plimpton yourself.

No writer is stepping in the ring with Mike Tyson (when he was even in the ring) or Bernard Hopkins and taking punches. No writer is feeling the rush of a rush behind Tom Brady. No writer is standing in against Randy Johnson’s heater coming at your head, getting checked against the boards by Sidney Crosby or posting up with Dwight Howard’s bicep in your grill.

Our today is not yesterday.

Was it easier back then or just different?

Earlier this week I swapped emails with an unnamed long time sportswriter who has three decades under his belt. We filled up each others inbox with stories of our own experiences. This is where veteran and novice spit game. Him – rooted in a rich journalism foundation from days when newspaper was king. Me – five years covering the NBA for a website, freelancing on the side recently with a monthly newspaper, while holding firm to the fact that the road to where we are is paved with the slippery steps of dreamland.

I’m not a newspaper guy. But does this mean I can’t report or prescribe to the pillars of journalism?

Now both myself and said newspaper man find ourselves toiling with our own blogs. This is what it has come to. I’m thankful for that.

It goes to show we are as much different as we are the same.

And while I contemplate the lives of great writers who have gone before me, I can’t help but wonder if life was any easier when they worked at their craft, slaved away with words or just merely different. I don’t have that answer. Probably never will.

So I’ll just keep writing…..and wondering what George Plimpton’s blog would read like today if he were still with us.

 

 

 

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Booked

Sixty pages down, who knows how many to go.

I’m taking a quick break from the manuscript tonight (at least for right now….I’m giving myself an hour before digging in again) and figured I’d pass along some quick thoughts from the laptop.

I told myself I wouldn’t make rambling entries about music, movies and pop culture when I started this here blog, but I didn’t say anything about books. So before I reveal my quirk on that topic, let me throw out some quick teasers about a couple upcoming features I’m working on for the Northwest Examiner.

Holding true to the boys of summer, I caught ear that there is a relative obscure Red Sox bar in Northwest Portland. So guess who is going to knock out 1500 words with a review of the old new town tavern?

Who would have thunk it….

After spending nearly five years living in NW Portland two blocks from said Bo-Sox brewery (the exact name being protected to retain interest), I come to find out about the haven only once I’ve moved back to Portland….from a Detroit Tigers fan. Where was I all those years? Was I so consumed with greener pastures in my twenties that I couldn’t saunter down to the local watering hole for a brew, burger and 162 Sawx regular season games (plus postseason) broadcasted on multiple screens?

Guess the old proverb is true.

“It is less painful to learn in youth than to be ignorant in age.”

Nevertheless, the brief history on the Portland bar 2,540 miles from Red Sox nation will be featured in the September issue of the NWE. Stay tuned for a link in the coming weeks.

After that, a trip to the past with Jack Dempsey having put on a thrilling boxing display in Portland during his comeback in 1931 could be in the works for the October issue. More to come on that.

Now back to some page turning.

Anyone who knows me can attest to my appreciation for a good book. But only those who really know me, know I tend to read multiple books at once. Right now it is three.

Read a chapter here. Read a couple there. Read a couple here. Repeat.

I’m not sure when I started juggling reading books. All I know is people look at me like I’m David Blaine trying to woo the masses by burying myself alive when I do mention it. I think it was during college at Portland State. Starting off as a history major, we were required to read and write so much, that digging deep into the inner pages of a book or two or three became the norm for me. It’s been two books at the same time ever since.

Take last month for example: Paul Shirley’s Can I Keep My Jersey?….and The Soul of Baseball  by Joe Posnanski were on the menu.

Before that: James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning…. and :07 Seconds Or Less by Jack McCallum.

This month it’s remembering David Halberstam: Firehouse and The Summer of ’49….and some research reading from Roger Kahn’s, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ‘20s.

Weird right? Sounds about right to me. I’m engrossed jumping from Dempsey and Prohibition to post World War II Boston and New York, to a firehouse that was literally two blocks from my apartment when I lived in Manhattan, and the amazing story of those who risked their lives on 9-11.

I see it as a never ending book buffet. All you can eat.

I always leave full.

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Making The Story

Long time no blog.

Since I last left off, I was busy juggling multiple projects between HOOPSWORLD, writing what seems to be a never-ending manuscript and waiting patiently for a couple pieces to hit the stands at the Northwest Examiner. Back then, Manny Ramirez was still a member of the Boston Red Sox which isn’t the case nowadays (sorry, he had to go). But that hasn’t changed my work load. That pretty much remains the same regardless of what’s going on in the world. 

It’s just made my hopes of Boston reaching the postseason a bit more challenging while facing some writing realities along the way.

This is the writing life.

HOOPSWORLD aside (because it’s pretty much business as usual cranking out NBA news and information on the regular), developing the manuscript (writing, research, interviews, writing) goes on and on. I recently conducted another interview with a former member affiliated with the 1946 West Coast Baseball Association.

Another piece of the puzzle slides into place.

I can’t get over these phone interviews with gentlemen well into their 80’s who played baseball fresh from stints in the military during World War II. Regardless if it is a fifteen, half-hour or hour conversation, time stands still. The stories are amazing. The details, although cloudy at times, remain vivid. You can tell time spent in the Negro Leagues is an adventure they hold near and dear to them to this day.

I am forever grateful for those I’ve spoken with having shared themselves with me. That goes without saying.

In other writing news, the Northwest Examiner ran my two stories this month, now available online (in PDF form, page 14 and 15) and at your local newsstands in Northwest Portland. The feature story is on Satchel Paige and his stint with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in 1961. If you’re not familiar with Satchel – and namely his time in Triple A baseball at the age of 55 – it’s worth the read. As is the quick story that follows Paige about William “Skinny Legs” Blair, a one-time member of the Portland Rosebuds (one of the six teams in the 1946 WCBA, although his memories of his time in Portland were a bit hazy), and needless to say the guy was a real firecracker.

The two story links are listed below at the bottom of this post….enjoy.

Quick parting story: if you are interested in a free coupon for Biscuits Cafe it’s on the flip page of the Paige story. I only know this because when I went to show my wife Emily my byline and the Paige story, she got distracted by the coupon instead. She apparently couldn’t resist the idea of “buy-one-get-one-free” biscuits.

Emily ripped out the coupon, thus tearing apart my story without even glancing at it. That’s okay. At least she took my byline with her.

 

“Storied Negro League Hurler Wrote A Chapter For Portland”

(much thanks goes out to Dwight Jaynes for sharing his insight and memories of Paige’s days in Portland.)

“Memory Goes But ‘Skinny Legs’ Was Here”

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