Kevin Duckworth. Seeya later on down the road.
Sad news, as most of you have probably heard: Kevin Duckworth is dead, after suffering congestive heart failure. Too bad, because the Duck was one of the true characters from those early ’90s teams. He was also a key component of their success during the Blazers’ two runs to the NBA Finals, one year averaging 18 points and eight boards a game. Duck was a big, sweet-natured man who never wanted to leave Portland and never stopped loving the Trail Blazers.
Not that you couldn’t see Duckworth’s death coming from miles away. I saw Duckworth last November at a Detroit Pistons game. Like many retired pro athletes, Duck didn’t much resemble the man he was during his playing days. He’d gained a lot of weight and was literally wide as a truck, but he’d remained active with the Blazers, supporting them in the community with a smile and stories from the glory days of Rip City. That’s what he was doing on the Oregon Coast when he died.
But that fall night last year he was at the Rose Garden there to be honored alongside former teammates Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey during a halftime ceremony. I was there covering the game for the Vanguard and had a chance to speak with Duckworth.
It had been a particularly cold fall night, and I remember entering the media room with a chill. The Glide sat at a table in the front of the buffet line, TV lights shining on his bald head. He conducted court, smiling, regal. Drexler owns this city, and he owns the Portland media especially. As they fawned over their returning hero, Kevin Duckworth sat on a painfully small chair and dabbed at the beads of glistening sweat collecting on his brow.
“How’s it going, Duck?” I asked, trying to be casual.
“Going good,” he wheezed in a surprisingly soft voice. “Going good.”
I introduced myself and asked him a couple of questions. He was excited to be back. He loved the Blazers and the fans. Standard stuff, but I could tell something was wrong. Duck was really laboring, even a year ago.
I said goodbye and thanked him for his time. He thanked me for speaking with him, which I thought was odd. He seemed genuinely appreciative.
In case you need some proof that I don’t just have a wild imagination, some photographic evidence below. The Glide in all his glory, sitting at the press conference table.
The Glide last November.