by: COURTESY OF BILL BAPTIST/HOUSTON ROCKETS - Clyde Drexler, former Trail Blazers great and now a TV analyst for the Houston Rockets, says the Blazers have a phenomenal team that has a chance to compete for a title for the next five to seven years, because they're so young.   HOUSTON — The grill is fired up on a pleasant, sunny southern Texas Sunday afternoon. Clyde Drexler is sans cap and apron, but he’s in the act of chef master as he slaps four rib-eyes on the slatted pan.

“I’m a grill guy,” the ex-Trail Blazers great says with a grin. “That’s who I am. I can grill anything — vegetables, fish, chicken, steak. I don’t cook much, but when I do, I go to the grill.”

Drexler certainly knows plenty about the process, the result of having grown up with “Drexler’s World Famous BBQ and Grill” — owned and operated by his mother, Eunice Scott — in downtown Houston.

Alas, there are distractions on this day. A phone call diverts Drexler’s attention, and before you know it, the steaks are charred. After some quick improvisation, replacements are procured and a tasty meal of steak, baked potato, broccoli, salad and rolls highlights a Portland reunion party of sorts.

Delicious pound cake is served for dessert, provided by Carol Jones, for 33 years the wife of Steve “Snapper” Jones, retired TV analyst for national networks, as well as legendary former broadcaster for the Blazers. They moved from Portland to Houston in 2008, and Drexler and Jones — a mentor to Drexler during his years with the Blazers — remain good friends.

Turning down an interview request, Drexler instead has invited me to his palatial five-bedroom estate in a 900-home gated community adjacent to Royal Oaks Country Club to watch the AFC championship game and visit. The afternoon turns out to be more of a gabfest than a viewing party, and I’m delighted to meet Carol, chat with Drexler and Jones, and have the opportunity to renew acquaintances with Scott.

I haven’t seen Drexler’s mom since helping the Hall-of-Famer write his memoirs, “Clyde the Glide,” a decade ago. When I tell her she hasn’t changed at all, I’m not kidding. At 78, she’s still spry, funny and opinionated. When Drexler informs everyone that Scott was a basketball star long before he was, she beams.

Drexler’s BBQ closed in 2007. “Mom ran it for 40 years,” he says with pride.

The Joneses moved to Houston so Carol, a native Texan, could help tend to her ailing father. Carol Jones now teaches speech therapy at Texas Southern. They’ve enjoyed their new home city.

“Texas is a different experience,” Jones says. “Especially Houston. Such a vast city. There is no such thing as a short drive anywhere.”

The climate makes it easier on Jones’ body, which began to fail after an appendectomy gone wrong in New York in 2005. Complications from blood clots affected the nerves in his legs. He has very little feeling in his feet and walks wobbly, with the help of a cane.

“The body is in total shutdown,” says Jones, 71.

The mind is still active as ever, though. His voice still booms, and the greatest cackle this side of Bill Russell’s sounds off frequently on this afternoon. Never short of an opinion, Jones wants to first tackle the subject of LaMarcus Aldridge.

“You have an MVP candidate up there,” he says.

And, as I start to agree that Aldridge deserves to be in the conversation along with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George, Jones stops me.

“L.A. is the standard-bearer, not only for the Trail Blazers, but for the Western Conference right now,” he offers.

More so than Durant? Jones builds his case.

Aldridge “is overlooked because he’s in Portland, and the team was bad for his early years, and people were saying, ‘He’s not the guy,’ because Brandon Roy was there,” Jones says. “And now he’s grown into ‘the guy.’

“Nobody is doing what he’s doing in terms of consistency. He brings it every night. What’s better than that? Not until this year, when the Trail Blazers have won big, did people begin to say, ‘He could be the MVP.’ He’s getting more credit because of what the team is doing.

“You take him away, they’re a 30-win team. That’s taking nothing away from (Damian) Lillard, who is a terrific player. But they can’t get along without the big guy. If I were a voting member, L.A. would have my vote.”

‘Believe in the team’

by: GETTY IMAGES - He burned the steaks, but former Portland Trail Blazer Clyde Drexler thinks this years Blazers could compete for an NBA title. He helped the Blazers to the title match twice in the early 1990s.The opinion has more validity, incidentally, in that Jones was never a homer, often times heretically being critical of the team that was paying his salary.

“When (former Blazer President) Harry Glickman hired me, he said, ‘You call it the way you see it, and we’ll be fine with it,’ “ Jones says. “Harry always insisted you give an honest call.

“Every announcer wants his team to win, but there’s a point where you are insulting the viewers’ intelligence. They also know when there’s a bad call. Sometimes we forget that, we really do.”

Jones felt he could be especially nonbiased with his calls in Portland.

“Those fans believe in the team,” he says. “They’ve been with that team. You go back to ‘77, that ignited the spark. They’ve been with them since then. They’ve ridden the ups and downs. They’re on a high right now, and they’ll stick with it. As long as you have that faith and belief, (announcers) don’t have to sugar-coat it.”

Jones watches the Blazers “all the time” on NBA League Pass. He considers them a bona fide title contender.

“I don’t think they’re coming back to the pack,” he says. “They’re doing two things better than they did a year ago. They’re sharing the ball, and even though they’re a perimeter team, they’re getting the kind of shots that everybody can make.

“They believe in each other, and they have a better bench than they did a year ago, when the bench was nonexistent. Against the good teams, they’ve been able to come up with wins. The confidence, the chemistry is there. They believe if they’re in a game, they can win a game.

“They should have a good run in the playoffs. You have to have good fortunes along the way, of course. They’ve had good health, and as long as that continues, they should be there.”

Drexler is of the same mind as Jones when it comes to the Blazers.

“They’ve put together a phenomenal team,” he says. “They’re going to have a chance to compete for a title for the next five to seven years, because they’re so young.

“No one knows the city of Portland deserves a title more than Steve and I. We both bleed Blazer red. It would be nice to have it happen.”

Growing up in Portland

Drexler says last week he emailed Seahawks/Blazers owner Paul Allen, congratulating him about the possibility of claiming a Super Bowl and NBA championship in the same year.

“He was all excited about that in his reply,” Drexler says.

Drexler laughs heartily when I refer to him as the “junior partner” in the Jones-Drexler broadcasting show. Drexler is now in his seventh season as TV analyst for the Rockets, with whom he ended his playing career in 1998.

“He’s getting better,” Jones says. “He’s gotten to the point where he enjoys it more. When the analyst enjoys the game, the fans enjoy the game. This is not a life-and-death situation. Sometimes as an analyst, you take it too serious. There’s going to be another game.”

Jones, who led Franklin High to the state basketball title in 1959, waxes nostalgic about Portland. “Everything good about my life happened there,” he says.

Drexler chimes in with similar sentiments.

“Some of the best memories of my life came from Portland,” Drexler says. “I basically grew up in Portland as a young adult. That’s where all my ideals were formed. It’s always going to be near and dear to my heart.”

In his last NBA season at age 35, Drexler averaged 18.7 points, 5.6 assists and 5.0 rebounds. He could have continued his playing career, but he wanted the freedom to travel, to enjoy life outside of basketball and spend more time with his family.

The Drexler kids are doing well. Austin is in film school at Southern Cal. Elise, back in Houston after graduating from Columbia, is bound for law school. Adam is redshirting at Houston — his pop’s alma mater — after playing as a freshman at Pepperdine. Drexler thinks his 6-5 youngest offspring has the potential to be a special player.

“Adam is super athletic,” Drexler says. “I don’t want to jinx him, but if he continues to work hard, he’s going to have some big opportunities.”

Drexler looks great, the body wearing the same lean look it did during his playing days. A thin gray beard adorns his face, though, and since he wouldn’t let me take a photo of him, I have the feeling it soon will be shorn.

When home, Drexler plays golf two to three days a week at Royal Oaks, plays tennis once or twice a week “if I’m lucky,” jogs, is always on the move. He travels often, usually to play golf somewhere. He’s active on the board of USA Basketball, and spends time dealing with real-estate holdings and with shops he owns at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Most of all, the greatest player in Trail Blazer history counts his blessings.

“My mom’s healthy, my kids are healthy — life is good,” he says, adding, “every day is Saturday. You’ve heard me say that before.”

No, Clyde, never heard you say that.

“Well, I say it a lot,” he says, grinning again. “You’ll never hear me complaining.”

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