Clyde Drexler and the perils of out of context quotes

I’m going to pull back the curtain a little bit.

There are countless Web sites out there competing for your eyeballs. We all worry about things like page views, how long you are on our sites and how many pages you read because those numbers matter to advertisers. And we want people to pay us to do this. 

The more of all those things we get, the more money we get. Hey, we all want to get paid to do what we love, right? This is how it works.

Keep that in mind for a minute.

Human nature is what it is. We here on Crossover Chronicles have, in our one year of existence, written a LOT of stuff. We have diagrammed and broken down plays. This writing staff has pumped out some insightful, well written stuff that I am proud, as managing editor, to say exists on a site I oversee.

But in all of this stuff that I, and we, are proud of, do you want to know what our most popular post has been this year?

This.  A picture of Adam Morrison and his ridiculous hair.  It has far out-paced anything else on this site.  Why? 

Human nature.

You can be driving down the highway, see the nicest, most well designed car, and maybe turn to your friend and say “wow, that’s a nice car.” Chances are, that would be the extent of it. Drive by a huge car wreck though? 

Everyone slows down. People want to see the carnage. Traffic slows to a crawl as everyone just HAS to see what is going on.

That is why Morrison’s hair was such a big deal for us. And that is why an out-of-context, excerpted quote about Clyde Drexler and the Dream Team being surprised that Magic Johnson lived long enough to even play in the Olympics is a big deal for Deadspin. 

Here’s what Deadspin excerpted from Jack McCallum’s book:  

“Magic was always…” And Drexler goes into a decent Magic impression: “‘Come on, Clyde, come on, Clyde, get with me, get with me,’ and making all that noise. And, really, he couldn’t play much by that time. He couldn’t guard his shadow.””But you have to have to understand what was going on then. Everybody kept waiting for Magic to die. Every time he’d run up the court everybody would feel sorry for the guy, and he’d get all that benefit of the doubt. Magic came across like, ‘All this is my stuff.’ Really? Get outta here, dude. He was on the declining end of his career.”Drexler had played exquisitely in the 1992 All-Star Game in Orlando, although the MVP award eventually went to Magic, who had been added by Commissioner Stern as a special thirteenth player to the Western Conference roster. “If we all knew Magic was going to live this long, I would’ve gotten the MVP of that game, and Magic probably wouldn’t have made the Olympic team.”

First, let me say out of context excerpts are a staple of blogging. Going back to the top of this post… we all read all of this stuff and part of it jumps out at us. We excerpt it, post it, and react to it. So I’m not blaming Deadspin for anything.

They took the most interesting part of what they read, made a post out of it, and everyone saw it and said “wow, look at this.” 

But the problem with this particular excerpt is that it made Clyde Drexler look quite insensitive. And by most accounts, Drexler is anything but.

And now, as we celebrate the greatest basketball team ever assembled 20 years after it happened, is not the time to get a “Drexler was an a-hole who didn’t want Magic around and was waiting for him to die” story line out there.

So, in an effort to diffuse the situation, McCallum released the transcript of his interview with Clyde on website.  Here is part of the lead up to what Deadspin excerpted. 


ME: You guys deferred and sort of decided, or it just kind of evolved, that Magic would be the spokesman. Does that sound correct?

CLYDE: Magic didn’t even play that year.

ME: I know. I just mean that once you got over there . . .

CLYDE: If you remember, Karl Malone said he didn’t want to play with Magic, and . . .

ME: I remember.

CLYDE: He was like, “I don’t want to play with Magic. If he has HIV, I don’t want to catch it.” [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The attention about Malone saying that came after the team returned to the U.S.; Clyde may have thought it came before the Games, or he may know something I don’t know about Malone’s feelings before the Games.]

CLYDE: So there was a lot of trepidation, a lot of ignorance. I was one of the few guys who stepped up after Karl made those statements and said, ‘Hey, the doctors say you can’t catch it unless you get blood-to-blood. I will play with Magic whatever he decides to do.’ That was the all-star game, that was everything, leading up to the Olympics.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I make it clear in the book that Clyde did step up and support Magic. But it happened after the team came back from Barcelona. I have no doubt that Clyde would’ve supported Magic’s right to play before the Games, too. That is not the issue.]

CLYDE: Magic didn’t play that year. The problem was, if you caught HIV, the virus, back then, people thought you were dead.

It goes on, and you should read it because it lends the proper perspective to the original Drexler quote. 

After reading the overall transcript, you can see how Clyde was speaking in more generalities and echoing the refrain of that era, rather than being someone who could not understand why Magic got the shine he did.

And because of that excerpt, you can argue that even though Clyde said what said, he didn’t really say it in that way.  Which is why he can say in response:

“I have nothing but love and respect for Magic Johnson and all that he has accomplished in basketball and in life. I always took pride in being a great teammate throughout my career and I would never have made the statements that were reported in Jack McCallum’s book. I was one of Magic’s biggest supporters during that difficult period in his life and I take great exception to having such comments attributed to me. Magic and I have a friendship that goes back more than 28 years and I would never say such hurtful things. I have reached out to Magic to assure him that I did not say those things and to apologize to him and his family for even having to respond to something as baseless as this.”

So yes, Drexler said what he said. But he did not say it the way you read it on Deadspin.

And that is not Deadspin’s fault. It is not anyone’s, really. 

It is, however, one of the downfalls of how today’s online media operates, and how we consume our news and information.  When you strip away context (not that it was available to Deadspin), you risk changing the meanings of words, phrases and thoughts. 

We live in a world of snap judgements.  Most people will form their opinions without even reading the entirety of what was written. Our reactions, however, are too quick and too firm.

If this Drexler incident should teach us anything, it is that when we see an excerpt that raises our eyebrows, we should ask for the proper context so we can form informed opinions. It is not fair to anyone involved to do otherwise.