I was surprised when a friend called this morning at 6am to tell me about Kevin Duckworth’s death. While he was only 44 years old and a member of a team that is the peak of the modern Trailblazers, what surprised me most was the shock of the news and the immediate affect it had. In the last two hours, I have had six separate people call and share this news with me. From three different states. Two of whom aren’t even blazers fans. But it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Duck and his relationship with the City of Portland, Blazer fans and basketball fans everywhere that we all felt saddened by this news.
There are many great articles about Kevin Duckworth that encompass statistical analyses, provide terrific insight into who he was and recognize his place in the pantheon of great Trailblazers (see here, here and here, for examples). So, in keeping with the reasons we started this blog, this post won’t focus on his numbers. Indeed, the most interesting aspects of the Duck’s career and place in Blazer folklore are the ones off the court, many of them after he retired.
As everyone knows, the Duck loved to fish (I actually have the dairy queen cup with his picture from 1992, with a fishing pole and his stats) and he remained in and around Portland throughout his tenure with the Blazers and into retirement. What I am always surprised by is how many people I have heard talk about running into this giant of a man and being overwhelmed by his humility and kindness. I know school counselors from Beaverton who, after meeting Duckworth at Fred Meyers, asked him if he’d be interested in stopping by their school. The Duck didn’t just stop by once – he stopped by several times that year and continued to do so for several more years after. He held free basketball clinics. He was an ambassador for the Trailblazers and a regular at games. There is something very, very special about the connection between a player like that and the city and fans he represents. You don’t see if often, but most of the members of those 1989-1992 Blazers teams had it, including the Duck.
A terrific jump shooter with great hands who suffered tremendous pressure and insults about his weight, Kevin Duckworth (#00) somehow became my favorite player on a team filled with iconic names like Porter, Kersey, Williams and, above all, Drexler. I even had the team/player hat, with the Blazers pinwheel up front and “#00 Duckworth” on the back. Maybe it was because I was a bigger kid who looked up to a guy that wasn’t cut from stone like Buck Williams or David Robinson or a slender reed like Kareem. Maybe it was the fact that Duckworth was always known as a good person, larger than life and generous to a fault. I’m not sure. But, no matter the reason, I will be thinking of Kevin Duckworth today, remembering the times I cheered myself hoarse when he was on the court and recognizing the example he was able to set off of it.
So, go easy, big fella and thank you.