Twenty seven years removed from his last Final Four moment, Clyde Drexler stood under a lowered basket in a downtown Houston park. Even at age 48, in his shiny dress shoes and suit, The Glide could have dunked on this rim on his tippy toes.
But Drexler wasn't concentrating on the hoop. It was the fancy logo behind him that drew Drexler to this park in the middle of a business day and the writing on it that Drexler hopes will further cement his town's standing as an internationally-recognized super city: "2011 Final Four Houston."
"You can't join Phi Slama Jamma," Drexler said Wednesday, referencing the high-flying University of Houston teams he starred for that changed basketball forever. "But you can be an honorary fraternity member."
Drexler pitched volunteering for the 2011 Final Four, an event that will grip the Bayou City like few others ever have in late March and early April. The NCAA and Houston's Local Organizing Committee are looking for 2,500-3,000 local volunteers for a Final Four which gets rolling long before the tip of the first national semifinal on April 2.
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and they have to commit to three shifts — doing things such as greeting fans at the airports and hotels and helping out at Bracket Town (a huge interactive fan extravaganza at George R. Brown) and Big Dance (the concert series/block party that will bring big-time musical acts to Discovery Green) — and a training session. Volunteer applications are now being accepted online.
Being a volunteer is one way for locals to get close to an event that most everyone in town will be watching on TV once the ball actually tips. "Very few Houstonians will attend a game," said Doug Hall, vice president game facility for the 2011 Houston Final Four Local Organizing Committee. "10,000 total. Maybe.
"But we don't want anyone to feel like they're being shut out. Volunteering is one thing you can do. But there's Bracket Town and Big Dance, practices that are open to anyone and a ton of events around the games."
Hall expects Houston's Final Four fever to set records that go far beyond the customized court at Reliant Stadium.
"In Indianapolis (at last year's Final Four), 60,000 people attended Bracket Town," Hall said. "We're expecting to draw 100,000 people.
"And that's a pretty conservative projection."
That's a long way from the back-to-back Final Fours that Drexler played in as a Cougar in 1982 and '83. A mere 17,327 people attended the 1983 NCAA Championship game pitting Houston vs. underdog North Carolina State. More than 70,000 will pack Reliant for every game of this Houston Final Four.
"It's completely different," Drexler said. "It's incredible to think what it's grown into. But it's still phenomenal."
Of course, Houston is a little different than Albuquerque, N.M., the site of the 1983 Final Four. This Final Four is being touted as taking place in the biggest market the event has ever hit (though the 1996 Final Four was held in East Rutherford, N.J., in a New York metropolitan area with approximately 22.2 million people, the games themselves didn't take place in the area's mega city like the 2011 Final Four will).
The Houston organizing committee has been preparing for this Final Four for years, but about the time Drexler stopped talking, the ramp up entered into a new phase.
"We're rolling now," Hall said. "It was kind of a slow period over Christmas, but now it's stepping up and we're making a turn. This is an important day for us. It's close enough that you can see it now."
Several high-ranking NCAA officials will be at Reliant on Jan. 18. Before then at Root Memorial Square Park (the outdoor basketball courts right across the street from the Toyota Center), Drexler already saw the big time approaching. When you're a Basketball Hall of Famer, you don't need to fill out an application to volunteer. But that doesn't mean Drexler — just one of the celebrities in and out of sports that the Final Four will draw — isn't committed.
"This is huge for me," he said. "I want to talk up my city and make sure everyone sees it."