Strickland made a name for himself during his 17 years in the NBA playing for nine different teams. Currently, Strickland is the assistant head coach at the University of South Florida. Michael sat down with him to discuss his godson – NBA All Star Kyrie Irving, the culture of New York City basketball and his relationship with Mark Jackson after being forced to compete for minutes with each other.
Irving is currently playing on the NBA’s biggest stage for the league’s biggest prize but Strickland remarked that the star point guard isn’t your normal professional athlete.
“After his basketball career, he’s going to go on to do something special,” said Strickland. He added that Irving was always as concerned with his communications major and his books as he was with basketball.
When asked to recall when he realized how great of a talent his godson could be, he described a time when Irving was only a little kid and his brother pointed out his ball handling abilities. Additionally, Strickland spoke about watching Irving play as a ninth grader and saying “Kyrie is a pro.” The best piece of advice he recalled giving to a young Irving was to take control of the game rather than playing so unselfishly and that the rest would come.
The two changed topics to draw on the culture of New York City basketball and how unique it was growing up for Strickland. While Michael grew into a lifelong fan of the game, Strickland was playing it against some of the most talented and gritty competition.
“Every time I stepped on the court, I had to compete,” said Strickland.
New York City basketball became synonymous with words like “tough” and demanded the utmost “respect” across the country. He preached that part of why the players got to be so talented hinged on being taught the fundamentals of the game by their coaches.
Growing up playing in the heated rivalry between the New York Gauchos and Riverside Church Club, the region was littered with top talent like NYC legends Boo Harvey and Lloyd Daniels who were all itching to play. Basketball opened up the rest of the country for Strickland. In fact, the first time he was able to leave the state was because of a basketball tournament.
The conversation concluded with a discussion about Strickland’s tenure with Rapaport’s Knicks. NYC natives Mark Jackson and Strickland were both competing against each other for a starting position but always maintained respect for each other.
“We were both looking long term,” said Strickland. “I’m going to sit here behind this dude forever? And he’s like, I’m going to be challenged by this dude forever?” Eventually, management pushed for a trade as both players were good enough to be starters and Strickland wound up getting traded.
Looking back on it, Strickland understands the move and cites Jackson’s “leadership” as the quality that ultimately kept him in New York. He concluded the conversation by explaining that he regrets the way the saga unfolded and would have loved to get a chance to play alongside Jackson for a number of years.
You can listen to the full interview about these topics and more on the latest episode of the I AM RAPAPORT: STEREO PODCAST.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.