Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Make 'em Jump Like Rod Strickland

"I walk the earth with my Rod in this Strick-land..." - Pharoahe Monch

"...guaranteed, make 'em jump like Rod Strickland..." -Wu Tang Clan

"...straight to the hole, like Rod Strickland, it was takin' its toll..." - DMX

"My man Kelly Moon from the Gavin / Rod Strickland..." -Wu Tang Clan

"Then the plot thickens / On point like Rod Strickland..." -Onyx

Yes, yes, the day has finally arrived. I knew if I had the chance to talk about Rod Strickland, I would. He's one of my favorite players of all-time. Watching the NCAA tournament and beholding Memphis's strong showing in the tournament with Mr. Strick on the bench, what better time to honor one of the best point guards in the 1990's?

Players have always seemed to know the truth about Rod. When he arrived on the Wizards, 20,000 point scorer and frustrated star Mitch Ritchmond had been wanting to get out of Sacramento for years. His first choice was to go to Washington. Why, you ask? "The main reason I came here," said Mitch Richmond after the trade, "was to play alongside Rod."

Dave D'Allesandro, in a column he wrote in The Sporting News, summed up Strickland's talent well: "Nobody penetrates like Rodney can, nobody draws whistles like Rodney can and nobody finishes around the rim like Rodney can, with the possible exception of those guys who play over it."

There's not much more you can say than that. Rod Strickland was never a great (or even good) three-point shooter, but aside from that weakness, he was an almost-perfect offensive point guard. He could run transition offense or half-court offense, and if things weren't going smoothly, he could always create points by taking it to the hole. Few have ever been able to penetrate with such acumen.

Strickland's talent, both for scoring and distributing, is evident from his statistics. From the second half of the 1989-90 season through the 2000-01 season, he averaged around fifteen points, 9 assists, and 1.75 steals per night. Often dogged for his fragility, he missed an average of ten games a season over that ten year span. Even though people retrospectively describe him as if he was some sort of journeyman, in those ten years (which were the prime of his career), he only played for three teams, and in his last years on the Wizards was rewarded with a lucrative $10 million a year contract.

Rod Strickland was more than just a score and dish guy, though. He consistently averaged close to five rebounds a game, and has a career FG% of 45.4%. He got to the free-throw line an impressive 6-7 times a game in the 90's (Dwayne Wade got to the line 5.9 times a game his rookie year).

Though I am no fan of Hollinger statistics, his "win share" is positive for Strickland in comparison with other point guards. For instance, it shows that in Steve Nash's career, he has contributed to his team in a way that contributes 61 more wins than an average player. Strickland had 72 at the same point in his career. Both players were traded or signed with new teams three times in the same span of years, and each team they were traded to made the playoffs subsequent to their arrival.

Steve Nash's career statistics are 13.5 points per game, 7.1 assists per game, 2.2 rebounds per game, .8 steals per game, shooting 47%. I have to say, I think Rod Strickland's statistics of 13.2 points, 7.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, shooting 45%, which include the last four unsuccessful seasons he had as a backup, compare quite well.

The difference between the two guys, in my mind, has a lot to do with the surrounding players. Rod never had the kind of team that Nash does now, and when he played with good players, he ran into problems. The good Blazers teams in the early nineties had to play the eventual champion Rockets, contender Suns, and Jazz in each of their first round matchups. The Bullets team that Strickland was on which featured Chris Webber and Juwan Howard had to face Michael Jordan's Bulls in the first round, and Chris Webber was injured, contributing only 15.7 points a game (to Strickland's 19.7, 8.3, and 6.0). At that time Chris Webber and Juwan Howard were each making in excess of $8 million a year. Rod Strickland was making $3 million, and was the fifth-highest paid player after Webber, Howard, Calbert Cheaney and Harvey Grant. Despite his low pay-grade, it was Strickland's play that carried the Bullets above the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last games of the season when Webber and Howard were unavailable. This play was also the reason they signed Strickland to a 4-year, $40 million dollar deal.

That deal would have made a lot of sense if they didn't trade Chris Webber. As a matter of fact, I don't doubt that the Bullets/Wizards would have been a good team for years to come, as the Sacramento Kings were when they received Webber. That one boneheaded move made Juwan Howard, the most overpaid and under-talented guy in the league for many years, Rod Strickland's only partner, along with a fading Mitch Richmond.

The team stunk. Everyone blamed Rod Strickland. They said he was lazy, immoral, a cancer.

I don't know why the collective reaction was so great, but from that time forward, Rod's career has always been perceived as one featuring mostly sloth, crime, and indignation. The media throws it out and basketball fans everywhere lap it up. Bad sports fans love to find silly reasons why their teams are bad, and Roddy gave them a chance.

Here is a list of the "bad" things Rod Strickland did in his career:

1. Arrested for refusing to leave a restaurant that was being shut by fire marshals;
2. Unexcused absence when Strickland missed a plane back from a funeral in New York;
3. Demanded that either he be traded by Portland General Manager Bob Whitsitt or that coach P.J. Carlesimo (noted friend of players) be fired;
4. Pled guilty to a DUI - ordered to complete 30 hours of community service;
5. Fight with teammate Tracy Murray - each was fined $25,000;
6. 10 minutes late for practice - fined $2,500;
7. Failed to appear in court when he missed a flight. Posted $5,000 bail;
8. Absent from practice;
9. Arrested but found innocent of DUI and reckless driving (also not arrested but accused of hitting woman);
10. Pled guilty to DUI - Served ten days in jail during the off-season.

Strickland had a fourteen year NBA career featuring ten problems. I agree that all of the above could be distracting to a team, and I'm not saying Strickland is a saint. However, I find it offensive that someone like Michael Irvin, who was busted in the middle of the season with two whores and a pile of cocaine in his hotel room, now sits pretty as an ESPN anchor because he's willing to kiss ass and play the role of animated ex-player, while Strickland is lampooned by goodie-two-shoes sportswriters from East to West.

To wit: A few years ago, ESPN made a list of "The NBA's Most Corrosive Cancers". (I'm not sure how cancer is corrosive; I suppose sportswriters aren't scientifically inclined.) On this list were nine players and one owner. Before or since that list, all of the players on the list except for one have gone to the NBA finals, and four players have won a championship. In my mind, this shows just how small-minded the writers behind this idea were.

The idea behind the column was to let smart-ass ESPN readers say things about the players they loved to hate (read: black people and Jason Williams). For instance, Andy Klamm said of Jason Williams: "At least now Jason's with the Grizzlies, where he can only damage young talent, and not a veteran's one time shot at a title." As we all now know, last year Jason helped veterans Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O'Neal get their first and last, respectively, shot at a title.

Also, there is insight like "Strick is a cancer and a serial loser." Why? "First, he was on a [sic] Wizards, a club declared by His Airness, himself, to be the next great team [the same Airness that drafted Kwame Brown and traded Chris Webber away -jv]. Strickland gets a big contract, then starts missing practice and doing other things to hurt the team [apparently this asshole wasn't sure what -jv]. When he was traded three years later to the Blazers, everyone in the Washington area was relieved to see him [sic]. What happened to the Blazers? They were in first place in the West without him, after he showed up, they fell to seventh and were swept out of the playoffs."

Now here's something I don't understand: The Blazers that year were 50-32, and were swept by the Lakers team that almost went undefeated in the Playoffs. The assertion that they were in first place is factually incorrect; the Spurs were in first place at midseason and the Blazers were third. At the end of the season, they were seventh, but were only five games back from third place.

What's really crazy is that Strickland was backing up Damon Stoudamire and playing paltry minutes. He wasn't a problem. The problem was that the Blazers were just not that good that year; the Spurs had Duncan and Robinson, the Lakers had Shaq and Kobe, the Kings had Webber and Peja, the Mavs had Dirk, Finley, and Nash, the Jazz had Stockton and Malone, and the Blazers had...Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, and Scottie Pippen. Whoop dee do! How could anyone blame Rod Strickland for somehow, magically making this team finish five games worse than it had before? It's nonsense.

Rod recently endorsed Mayor Bloomberg's campaign (being a native New Yorker) and Henry Abbot linked to a article by writer John Canzano who said "Listen, Mr. Mayor, people in Portland can tell you what it's like to have Strickland on your team. Or better yet, just go to www.cracksmoker.com and see for yourself."

John Canzano is an Indiana boy who loves to suck up to Bobby Knight teams and the belief that ten good white guys can always beat these hoodlums that are ruining the sport, etc., etc. He was the one who organized Damon Stoudamire's unauthorized piss test, and I imagine he fancies himself to be some sort of moral authority while failing to realize that he writes about sports, which have nothing to do with morals. If he really cared and was at all talented, I imagine he would be in a different business.

Fred Bowen, a columnist with the Post, wrote a nice article about how kids should watch Rod Strickland to see what not to be as basketball players. He wrote that "Strickland...sleep-walks through games. Just watch him some time. He acts like he is too cool to care whether the Wizards win or lose...Strickland got in a fistfight with teammate Tracy Murray. And Strickland is always feuding and fussing with his coaches...no way a good teammate would ever get in a fight with another player. A good teammate is throwing passes to teammates, not throwing punches at them."

A ridiculous site called Hoopsology put Rod in their Hall of Feeble, noting "He even won the rookie of the year award. Rod Strickland has always been a legend in his own mind...if you listen to him you would think he's a soon to be Hall of Famer. Rod was always first on line for his check and last on line for dedication. Rod could have been somebody, but instead he's somebody that nobody wants." (I doubt the people from Hoopsology ever talked to Strickland, because he is reserved and humble. Furthermore, he didn't win the Rookie of the Year award; he was a rotation player who backed up Mark Jackson with the Knicks and was all-rookie second team, something that is impressive for a bench warmer.)

The point of all that Rod Strickland is victim to a trend in sportswriting: That of the arrogant, self-aggrandizing white (and sometimes black) sportswriter who feels that the virtue of his readership somehow grants him some sort of ministerial authority. "Role model" this and "Work Ethic" that, the moral sportswriter preaches about things that are important, but makes a key mistake.

That mistake is to place more emphasis on morals and individual writers' own beliefs about sportsmanship than talent and tenacity. Sometimes bad people are good athletes. I actually think Rod Strickland is a good person, but even if he isn't, he deserves recognition for his skill on the court.

It drives me crazy that when people look back on Rod Strickland's career they will see nothing but negative articles and editorials, because he deserves better than that. He was a great player to watch who was as fundamentally sound as anyone to play his position. He made the playoffs almost every year for ten years, and in the sunset of his career served admirably as a reserve, making a difference even in his reduced minutes for teams like the Timberwolves.

That, in my mind, is why John Calipari came calling for Strickland earlier this year. I don't want to make any grand predictions, but I am excited that there is a chance for one of my favorite players to continue his legacy in a way few pundits thought possible. I wish him the best, and I'll be rooting for the Tigers the rest of the way (though I still have Pitt to win it).

I'll close with this link to a nice highlight video of Rod doing what only he could.

As always, e-mail me at dontgiveupthebasketballblog@gmail.com


MattG21 said...

well, my comment was erased...

i'll try again.

I always liked Rod Strickland too...I truly believe if he physically looked different his legacy would be different too. Just because the guy looks high all the time, doesn't mean he is. All kidding aside, I liked the guy a lot.

On another note, you might want to take a look at some of Tim Hardaway's stats...one of the only guys to put up 20ppg and 10 assits/game ever. Isiah Thomas and Kevin Johnson being the others off the top of my head (Steve Nash NOT on the list).

I always remember his playoff daggers in the hearts of the Knicks and other Eastern Conference teams...It's the same feeling as when Gary Sheffield is up...I hate the guy, and he scares the shit out of me, but his skills are amazing...

You can sum it up in one fell swoop with this quote: "I got skeelz." -Tim Hardaway

JimmyValente said...

Is it me, or did you just say "guy" like ten times?

MattG21 said...

I think it was 4

Pace said...

I'm from the same hood as Rod and I've only known him to be a good guy who has done some really positive things for myself & the community...his real life story is inspirational.

Pace said...


Anonymous said...

I've never read so much about Rod Strickland, my all-time favorite player. Good read. Thank you!

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