‘It’s time to cheer for a Goliath of a man’

By Joe Freeman
Updated: August 31, 2008

PORTLAND — There were touching tributes from teammates, eye-watering tales from friends and family, a proclamation from the mayor and moving video presentations during a public memorial service for Kevin Duckworth on Saturday.

And as much as anything, the nearly two-hour homage at Memorial Coliseum featured a heavy dose of love, laughter and compassion as more than 1,000 friends, family, fans and current and former Trail Blazers gathered to celebrate the life of the man called “The Gentle Giant.”

“He left this world a better place,” said former teammate Terry Porter. “He left the Blazers community a better place.”

On the very Memorial Coliseum floor where he starred for seven years as a prominent player on two Western Conference championship teams, Duckworth was praised for his kindness, gentle soul, fondness for children and the outdoors and, more than anything, his love of Portland and the Blazers.

Former teammates Buck Williams, Porter, Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler reflected on the caring, fun-loving person they knew in the locker room and applauded the playing ability of the two-time All-Star who sometimes was under-appreciated by Blazers fans.

“People talk about Clyde Drexler being the best player on the team, but I say it was Kevin Duckworth,” Williams said about the Blazers’ teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s. “If he played well, we knew we were going to win. He was the X factor . . . the glue that (held) the team together. It’s time to cheer for a Goliath of a man. He did so much for the community, he made you so proud.”

The unique impact and relationship Duckworth held with the Portland community was a popular subject Saturday. One of the few Blazers who made Portland his permanent home — during and after his playing days — Duckworth was an ambassador for the Blazers until the day he died at the Oregon coast in between stops on the team’s “Make it Better” statewide campaign.

Though he never admitted so publicly, Duckworth privately stewed about the state of the Blazers a few years ago and was as happy as anyone about the franchise’s recent resurgence.

“The Portland Trail Blazers were his team,” said Traci Rose, the Blazers’ vice president of community relations and a longtime Duckworth friend. “There were a couple years when he refused to pass the baton . . . (because) the teams didn’t hold the character of the teams in the early 1990s. Nate (McMillan), he was so proud of the staff and the things you’ve done with the team. He was excited about the future.”

Thirteen people spoke Saturday — Drexler taped a video message from Taiwan — mixing humorous stories with touching memories, often about the man they knew outside the Blazers No. 00 uniform. And perhaps the most revealing came from two of Duckworth’s closest friends, CW Taylor and Jason Kranitz, in the Portland area.

Taylor noted that Duckworth’s “dislikes” (tomatoes, onions, liars and people touching his cell phone) were far fewer than his “likes.” Duckworth, Taylor said, loved his mother, Maxine, family, friends and kids. He held a special fondness for animals (“He owned every type of species”), gadgets, fresh air and air conditioning (“On a road trip, he would freeze you to death”) and being in charge of the television remote (He’d walk into my house and say, ‘Where’s the damn remote?’ “), among other things.

And perhaps most of all, Duckworth loved the outdoors, especially fishing and hunting, which he and Taylor regularly enjoyed together.

Kranitz, hinting at Duckworth’s perfectionist side and humorous personality, said Duckworth once watched Kranitz mow his lawn and immediately walked out and re-mowed it himself, saying that Kranitz didn’t know what he was doing. “And it’s been many years since I’ve moved my lawn,” Kranitz said.

One time Kranitz watched a stranger ask Duckworth if he was a professional football player and he instantly deadpanned that, no, he was actually a professional table tennis player. When people would ask what size shoe Duckworth wore, he simply would reply: “Man-sized.” These were examples of the playful nature of the man who died at age 44.

“He had a way of making someone feel special even if he only met them once,” Kranitz said.

This special presence, it seems, will linger in the city Duckworth loved. Mayor Tom Potter proclaimed that Aug. 30, 2008, was a day of “appreciation and mourning for Kevin Duckworth” and said the city planned to name a boat dock along the Willamette River in Duckworth’s honor.

And just before Taylor finished speaking, he noted that a person should consider themselves lucky if they can say they have five friends. He then asked everyone in the Memorial Coliseum crowd to stand if they considered Duckworth a friend. Virtually everyone in the building rose to their feet.

“He enjoyed life and people,” Kersey said. “They say you’re not measured by the possessions you have and the wealth you leave behind, but by the people you have touched. Big Duck, job well done. Well done indeed.”