I just got off the phone with Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie, who like everyone else who was around the NBA in the late 1980s and '90s, was saddened by the death of former Portland Trail Blazers center Kevin Duckworth. According to news reports out of Oregon, the man known as "Duck" died of unknown causes Tuesday at age 44.
A 7-footer who battled weight issues throughout his 11-year-career, Duckworth succumbed while representing the Blazers at a basketball clinic in Lincoln City, Ore. The two-time All-Star is best known for anchoring Rick Adelman's Portland teams that reached the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. More importantly, he will be remembered as one of the nicest men in the league, and much to the delight of journalists, a genuinely entertaining, thoughtful character. After one particularly subpar playoff performance, for instance, he spent most of an interview session talking about his passion for fishing and his plans to become a "worm" farmer when he retired. Instead, he ran a construction company, owned a restaurant and pursued his love for hunting and fishing.
"He was a gentle giant, a real sweetheart of a guy," recalled Petrie, who joined the Blazers front office shortly into Duckworth's tenure with the club, "and he was a very effective player on a great team. He had a soft touch, a little jump hook, and face-up jumper. In his best years, he could actually run well for a guy his size. Toward the end of his career, he really struggled with his weight. It wasn't something he wasn't aware of, and it doesn't take away from the spirit of the man. It's so sad, such a premature passing."
Duckworth, who averaged 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds, also played for San Antonio, Washington, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers. His career undoubtedly was affected by his weight problems; at times, he ballooned close to 400 pounds.
Petrie had not yet spoken to his front office assistant Wayne Cooper, a former Blazers teammate of Duckworth. "Wayne's on vacation in Hawaii," Petrie added, "but I'm sure he heard about it this morning."
Never too old to admit his mistakes
Petrie mentioned that he was impressed with Michelle Obama's speech Monday night at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and then revealed his own personal interest in the upcoming race: It's the Princeton connection, of course. Michelle Obama's brother, Craig Robinson, also played for Petrie's mentor, Pete Carril at the Ivy League school. Robinson is the new head basketball coach at Oregon State.
But what I wanted to know is this: Are the Princeton ties sufficient to bring Carril back into the "Democratic" family? The Kings consultant - now living near his family in New Jersey - voted for George W. Bush in 2000, but later acknowledged his lapse in judgment. Best guess here is that Barack Obama can count on Coachie this time ...