PORTLAND, Ore. -- Kevin Duckworth loved exotic animals, woodworking, hunting and fishing, gadgets and the Trail Blazers, but definitely not in that order.
The Blazers were the No. 1 love for the former All-Star center, who died Monday night of an apparent heart attack at age 44.
A few weeks before his death, Duckworth said his "dream job" would be as a scout for the Blazers, the team for which he played from 1986 to 1993.
|Jerome Kersey (left) and Kevin Duckworth remained good friends well after their playing days. (Getty Images)|
"I love it here," Duckworth said a few years ago. "I don't want to go nowhere else. Portland has everything I want. If I have to die somewhere, this will be it."
Duckworth's death came while he was taking part in a Blazers summer tour to the Oregon Coast, where a contingent of former players and club personnel conducted free children's clinics and spread the word about the team to fans.
"I'm numb," former teammate Jerome Kersey said after learning the news of Duckworth's death. "All through last night I kept waking up and thinking, 'Did I dream that? It just can't be.'"
Duckworth combined with Kersey, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Buck Williams to form the starting five for the Portland team that thrived under coach Rick Adelman, winning Western Conference titles in 1989-90 and 1991-92. The 1990-91 Blazers had an NBA-best regular-season record of 63-19 but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the West finals.
"Duck could post up from either side, make jump hooks with either hand," said Adelman, now head coach of the Houston Rockets. "We ran a little pick-and-roll for him a lot. He could make the 15-footer from the baseline, and he was a much better team defender than people realized because he took up so much room."
A second-round pick by San Antonio out of Eastern Illinois in 1986, Duckworth played 14 games for the Spurs his rookie year before he was traded to Portland for Walter Berry. He spent seven seasons with the Blazers, the last six as a starter, and was the NBA's Most Improved Player for the 1987-88 season.
Duckworth also played for Washington, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers before retiring after 11 seasons in 1996-97.
Though he was not employed full-time by the Blazers -- he was working as a boat broker -- Duckworth was involved with the organization as a community ambassador. He had driven with Kersey on a recent junket that made stops in several rural Oregon towns, including The Dalles, Pendleton and Burns.
When Duckworth arrived on the scene in 1986, the Blazers' big men were Sam Bowie and Steve Johnson. By the 1988-89 season, Bowie and Johnson were both coming off the bench, and the next year, both were gone to other teams.
"When Kevin first arrived, he was a monster as far as physical size," Bowie said. "He was competition, so I scoped him out real well. I watched him improve every day through a strong work ethic, and finally you look up and say, 'Whoa, this guy has some serious skills.'
"Kevin didn't have much self-confidence. He might have been picked on because of his weight as a kid, and he didn't really believe in himself. I used to try to help him with that. I helped him so much that (the Blazers) eventually kicked me out the door, and I would completely agree with their decision.
"I'm at a loss for words. Kevin Duckworth. He's not supposed to be gone so young. I loved that guy. He was a great teammate, one of the best I ever had. We were extremely close."
Johnson and Duckworth were similar in some ways as players -- both excellent offensive players, good on the low block, not so good on defense.
"We sort of identified with each other that way," Johnson said. "And we got along great. For as big a guy as he was, he had a very tender heart. That's what everybody loved about him."
Kersey was Duckworth's closest friend among his ex-teammates.
"We were kind of like brothers," Kersey said. "We'd argue. He'd call me a fool. You know how brothers are. But everything was done in a loving manner.
"He was just a good guy to be around. When he talked about hunting and fishing, his eyes just lit up. He was an easy-going, fun guy. It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, it's what's in your heart."
On Monday in Tillamook, Ore., Duckworth was hanging with adoring kids, signing autographs and doing an interview on the Blazers' radio affiliate there. On Monday night, the big man was gone.
"It just goes to show," Johnson said, "that no one is promised tomorrow."