Clyde Can Dance

I think I speak for us all when I say, “Whew!” Clyde Drexler is still with us, still dancing like he’s setting a hard pick on “Dancing With the Stars.”

The big guy with the “What? Me worry?” smile had a very tough Tuesday, rehearsing, then dancing the waltz. His partner, 2006 World Rhythm Dance Champion Elena Grinenko, was all over Clyde like a henpecking wife. “Late again,” she snapped, when Clyde arrived for rehearsal at an hour some might describe as island time.

Grinenko’s irritation was understandable. Last season she was tethered to Tucker Carlson, who danced as if he were frostbitten and was eliminated after Week One. If she kept drawing losers, how would she parlay this showbiz opportunity into an actual, paying career? You could see Grinenko distancing herself from the NBA Hall of Fame player. “If Clyde doesn’t work harder, he’s going to get eliminated,” she confided to the camera while Clyde was out of the rehearsal room. Note that she didn’t say, “we.”

Clyde, bless his heart, never seemed to notice. Later in the show, dressed in a sharp-looking tux, he spun Grinenko about the ballroom floor with a smile on his face and cement in his legs.

The judges castigated him.

From Carrie Ann Inaba, whose career highlight was choreographing “American Idol Christmas 2003”: “Every one of your dances looks the same.”

From Bruno Tonioli, a film and music-video choreographer whose critiques sound like those of a pep squad leader: “You’re not even trying.”

From Len Goodman, the dyspeptic professional dance judge and teacher, on the heat Clyde generated with Grinenko: “There is more romance between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell.”

They gave Clyde a total of 15 points — last place, less than what they awarded Leeza Gibbons, who dances as if she were picking her way around rain puddles.

Clyde was befuddled. “[The judges] said I regressed,” he said. “But I didn’t fall down.”

I tuned to Wednesday’s “live results” show with a heavy heart. These philistines in their ballroom frocks, I muttered. Who are they to judge Clyde the Glide?

The man can dance, just not on the ground. Clyde’s game was in the air — a waltz, a rumba, a tango above the rim. You marveled at the way he soared to the basket, like Peter Pan, like Spider-Man. He scored 22,195 career points — 20th best of all time — seemingly without ever touching the court.

I lifted a glass, ready to toast Clyde’s demise. But it never came. Gibbons walked the plank instead. Clearly, a big chunk of NBA viewers are closet “Dancing With the Stars” fans.

My advice to the judges is this: Watch Stephen Curry’s high-wire act. Imagine ramping that up several notches. Then talk to me about Clyde dancing with heat, creativity and romance.

This piece ran originally on ESPN.com

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Ron Berler

Ron Berler

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Author of “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.” Has written for the New York Times Magazine, Wired and ESPN.com.