Remembering Kevin

I worked for the Portland Trail Blazers during the 1986-1987 season. I worked for the communications department, under John Lashway, and was responsible for security in the press areas (upper and lower press tables, photo lanes, press rooms) and as a press liaison on game day.

As part of my duties I had to arrive at the Coliseum two and half hours prior to game time to patrol the dinning room set aside for the press, coaches, and scouts. But, I couldn't sit there for two hours straight, so I would head out to the court area.

I sat in the photo lane with the photographers, right next to basket, on November 7, 1986, when Sam Bowie went up in the air on the opposite side of the rim for a shot. As he left the floor I heard something snap (on the way up). He came down and his season was over. Portland needed a new center. (I still remember the bend in his leg and him pounding the floor knowing: "not again".)

Kevin arrived in Portland about a week before Christmas 1986, and played his first game on the 21st of December. When he got to Portland he was overweight, and if he stayed that way, he would always be just a sub off the end of the bench. Steve Johnson was the starting center (although he was half a center and half a power forward), and Kevin would only get in the game during certain match-ups that took advantage of his size and more importantly, weight, against certain opponents.

Prior to Kevin's arrival in PDX, Kiki Vandeweghe was always the first player to arrive at the Coliseum. After Duckworth became a Blazer, he became the first player to arrive most nights.

Kiki might still beat Kevin to the arena, but he would stay in the locker room getting pre-game treatment from Trainer Ron Culp. Kevin was always the first out on the floor for pre-game warm-ups.

Because he was the first player there, Kevin would be by himself shooting baskets. I would come out and rebound for him until another player showed up. There would be very few people in the Coliseum at this point, mainly just a handful setting up equipment, getting ready to test the public address system. So, Kevin would shoot and I would rebound and kick it back out to him. We never talked much. He would see me and crack a big smile on his face and we would say "hi" to each other. But, that was about it. Maybe he would ask how I was doing, but once he started warming up, I didn't say a word. He was there to get better, and I was not going to slow that down with idle chit-chat. As soon as another player got out to the court, I made my exit and returned to the press dinning room to resume my duties (and have a nice meal).

The transformation that I witnessed, much of it first hand, was amazing. He had very soft hands, and when hot, a very sweet touch with his shot. His defense improved over time.

I was not rehired for the following season, maybe too much shoot-around with Kevin? Jennifer Glickman (Harry's daughter) didn't like me much, and Larry Weinberg was gearing up to sell the team. He was clearing the decks. So, the $13 a game that they paid me, well, I was out.

I was so happy to watch the transformation of Kevin that season and the following season. He lost weight, toned-up, and won the 1987-88 NBA Most Improved Player Award the very next season. Kevin made more progress in two years than just about any player ever has with the Blazers, and a lot farther than many doubters ever thought possible.

Most all of the Trail Blazers were friendly to me, they would say "hi" and ask how I was. One that I didn't really like was Walter Berry. (He didn't have a very good training camp, would show up late, had an attitude, got injured, didn't play much during the regular season, 19 minutes in the first seven games with Portland, and wanted out.) But, Berry was traded to the San Antonio Spurs on on December 18, 1986, for an overweight rookie center named Kevin Duckworth.

Kevin, thanks for all of the smiles that you gave me and Portland Trail Blazer fans! I would walk out on to the court and he would see me and he would crack a big smile, and I couldn't help but smile right back at him. It was infectious. Then without a word I would grab the ball as it came out of the net and fire it back to him. His face then became very determined and focused, and he would swish another jumper.

Kevin Duckworth
April 1, 1964 – August 25, 2008

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