When old hoop heads watch Kyrie Irving slither his way into the lane and finish acrobatic layups at the rim with either hand using crazy English off the glass, they see shades of a sometimes forgotten player, one who over the course of a 17-year career put together a resume as one of the most fearless and inventive point guards in the NBA.
Rod Strickland’s basketball legacy has taken on a new complexion in recent years. The New York City hoops legend had the ball-handling ability, the court vision (he’s 12th all-time in assists), and dexterity that made him a nightmare for defenders. You might say he’s something of a spiritual godfather to modern-day guards like Kyrie. He also happens to be Kyrie’s actual godfather, having grown up in the NYC area playing basketball with the elder Irving.
After his playing days ended, Strickland worked for years under John Calipari at both Memphis and Kentucky helping him develop some of the NBA’s best and most thrilling point guards of the last decade or so. Right now, he’s working with Budweiser for a promotion ahead of the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday, in which he and fellow NBA legend Earl Monroe have helped deliver “Draught Lottery Machines” to bars around Manhattan that offer Knicks fans a 14 percent chance to win a free Budweiser, i.e. the same odds the Knicks have at landing the No. 1 pick.
We caught up with Strickland last week, through Budweiser, to talk about Kyrie, his new job with the G League, that infamous hot dog incident during his days in Washington and what it was like to get a shout-out on one of the Wu Tang Clan’s biggest hits.