By Brian Taylor
Home of egos, hip hop, killa taxis, greasy pizza and the “New York” point guard. Point men that are from the area are usually flashy, entertaining, oozing machismo and turnover prone (see: Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, Kenny Anderson). The one guy to really start this era of player into the here and now of basketball was the one and only Rod Strickland (his moms calls him “Rodney”).
Strickland was the product of the Oak Hill and Mouth of Wilson high school basketball juggernauts that included the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Jerry Stackhouse. At 6’3”, Strickland was big enough to take guards into the post, but also fast enough to blow by anyone respecting his jumper. He broke his hand in a game, and had the habit of wrapping each and every finger since the injury. Along with Miami Heat-Alum Kevin Edwards, Rod got his swagger on at DePaul University, making “Blue Demons” just as fear-inducing as “Blue Devils”. In 1988, David Stern called his name, and sent him on his way to his hometown New Yawk Knicks. For any kid from the Bronx, playing for the Knicks would be a dream come true, problem is, if the guy ahead of you on the depth chart is an All-Star (Mark Jackson), you won’t get any burn. After playing only 51 games for his home team, Rod was shipped to San Antonio for Mo Cheeks (yep THAT Mo Cheeks), where he flourished under Larry Brown. I remember an old school Nike commercial, with Rod showing off his patented “Rod and Roll” crossover move. With “the Admiral” David Robinson just coming into his own, Rod had a field day driving, slashing, dishing and scoring until the Fun Police Commissioner (Coach Brown) got into a beef with him, prompting Strick to opt for free-agency.
The TrailBlazers “showed him the money” and pretty soon, Strickland was playing All-Star caliber ball, averaging 17 points and 8.5 dimes per game. At the peak of his career, he was shipped to the Bullets and would become part of a team that returned Washington to playoff contention after a 7 year-hiatus. That team included a young, raw Chris Webber and All-Star Juwan Howard and fought hard before bowing out to MJ’s dynasty. What people don’t know is that Rod lead the league in assists his first year as a Washington Wizard, hooking Juwan and Chris up with almost 11 dimes per game (5 of which would always make the crowd jump out their seats). Strickland was indeed a major talent, but you all know what comes next!
Along with pioneering the “New York” point guard role, Rod also pioneered the “JailBlazer” moniker, as he was the guy to start the trend of Portland having a prison basketball team. Rod never really got along with Coach Adelman, got caught up in the area’s marijuana scene and had the obligatory run-ins with local law officials. When he came to D.C., he played his ass off, but that didn’t come without missing practices, showing up 20 minutes before game time and other crazy stunts. Strickland wasn’t exactly the best teammate either. I remember watching a game where the Wiz were in Charlotte, and then Wizards’ forward Tracy Murray is sporting one of the worst black eyes this side of boxing. None of the announcers mentioned it, and it came out the next day that the two had a brawl at the team hotel, with Murray (at 6’7”, 225) having accused Rod of…well..”pitching AND catching” so to speak. Strick was hard on himself physically as well, doing Kobyashi hot-dog impressions right before games (he didn’t feel right unless he chucked some of that up). The Wizards tried to run Strickland alongside Mitch Richmond (from the Webber trade) in the supposed “best backcourt in the East” and the team went back to its playoff-missing ways. After promising to be an angel in his brief stay in Minnesota, Rod got charged with smashing someone’s parked car, and then peeling out, getting in trouble with law enforcement up there. His rap sheet included swinging on police officers, DUIs galore and other police blotter material. Getting up in age, Strickland tried the typical league tour (signing here and there to teams needing PG help) before finally chilling out for good in 2005 after 16 games with T-Mac and Yao, and a 3 month stint with a Lithuanian team.