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Clyde Drexler on how squeezing tennis balls made him an NBA champion


Ten-time NBA All-Star, Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and NBA Champion are some of the terms associated with Clyde Drexler's illustrious basketball career. Nicknamed "The Glide," Drexler became a fan favorite for his aerial exploits and prolific scoring ability, earning himself a spot on the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list introduced during the 1997 All-Star weekend.

A native of Houston, Drexler had been to the NBA finals twice with the team that drafted him, the Portland Trail Blazers. However, they failed to overcome the opponents from the Eastern Conference and fell victim to the Detroit Pistons in 1990 and the Chicago Bulls in 1992. Both teams defeated Drexler and the Blazers to go on to win the second of back-to-back titles.

Drexler joined his hometown team, the Houston Rockets, in 1995 and went on to win his first NBA championship. Joining forces with Hakeem Olajuwon after the Rockets sent Otis Thorpe in a deal to acquire Clyde, the Rockets set themselves up for a run at back-to-back NBA titles. Drexler was finally an NBA champion, but as far as he was concerned, he became a champion long before that day he raised the Larry O'Brien trophy for the first time.

"I was a champion long before I won an NBA title. When you dedicate yourself to your work and give it your all, you are a champion regardless of the result."

Clyde Drexler, NBA Philippines Bounce Back Strong: Beyond the Court

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In an appearance by Drexler via a video conference organized by NBA Philippines, Clyde answered questions from fans and shared some important points regarding how he views his career in the NBA. When asked about how it felt to win an NBA championship with the Rockets in '95, he told viewers that he knew he was a champion before winning that first ring. Drexler then explained that he dedicated himself to the game and tried to get better every day, making him feel like a champion. According to Clyde, the little things got him over the hump, such as finding ways to improve while doing daily tasks.

"I used to squeeze tennis balls while watching TV so I could improve my grip... Or do calf drills when on the stationary bike. I found ways to get better even while doing daily tasks."

Clyde Drexler, NBA Philippines Bounce Back Strong: Beyond the Court.

When Rudy Tomjanovic said, "never underestimate the heart of a champion," this is likely what he meant. It is fascinating to learn of these stories of how dedicated some of the NBA's greatest are to the game of basketball. Even something meant to be leisurely such as watching TV can involve some improvement related to the game when competing against the world's best players. For Clyde, this is what being a champion was all about and what drove him during his playing career.

"If we were playing a non-playoff team, my teammates would almost have to wake me up for the game. If it was the Playoffs in the Western Conference, I would not be able to sleep the night before games because I would be so excited to go up against the best players in the world."

Clyde Drexler, NBA Philippines Bounce Back Strong: Beyond the Court.

When the players of the 80s and 90s say that they were competitive to the n-th degree, stories like these help me understand why. As with all things, players and their competitive nature have evolved. Of course, they are just as competitive, but it is perhaps manifested in different ways these days. If you are a young buck trying to make it to the league, take it from Clyde and start shopping online for tennis balls because it will take that and more to prepare to compete against the world's best.

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