He was a tough lefty-combo guard who was the master of taking charges. In 2002 the Celtics were 4-0 with him as the starting point guard when Kenny Anderson got injured. I for one was crushed when he left Boston after his one season. If you remember the Cinderella Celtics of 2002, you absolutely remember Erick Strickland.
A former Nebraska Cornhusker (and a tremendous overall athlete, playing football and baseball very competitively) Strickland played his first four years in the league for the Mavericks, who weren't that good at the time. Didn't stop me from remembering a certain game: Tuesday March 11, 1997. Mavericks vs the Knicks (a team I have always passionately detested). Watching that game and the show Strickland put on left an indelible mark on my youth. 12-12 from the foul-line. Amazing ball-handling, he embarassed the Knicks' guards Childs and Starks on multiple occasions. He was absolutely everywhere and lead them to victory that night. My thinking is wow, this guy can play! Stored in my memory for future knowledge.
Erick & Eric
He'd actually make quick stops in NY and Vancouver before joining the Celtics in the fall of 2001-02 season and I for one was psyched. He'd play in 79 games and for most of the season he was the first guard off the bench. After they acquired Tony Delk in a mid-season trade, his playing time became a little less consistent. Anderson missed 4 games that season due to injury and Erick started them all and the Celtics won all 4. He shot the 3 ball exceptionally well that season, just shy of 40%. And with him and Kenny Anderson in there as lefties the Celtics always had an advantage [TB Tangent Time: Being lefty is such an underrated thing. I always thought it would've been awesome for at one time for the Celts to send out Anderson, Strickland, Adrian Griffin, Raef LaFrentz and Brad Lohaus. 5 lefties. Imagine how thrown off the defense would be?]
I remember being very upset when Boston didn't resign him that offseason; Erick left to play for the Pacers. It was outrageous to think JR Bremer would be able to step in and fill that role (was never a big Bremer fan, even if he was also a lefty). Two years after that in Milwaukee and Strickland's NBA career had come to an end.
For the first time in our WTHHT history, Erick actually took some time out for Celticslife to give us an update on what he's up to and his time with the Celtics! Here we go:
Celtics Life: I've heard a rumor that you actually played football at the University of Nebraska, is that true? If so, which sport did you prefer to play football or basketball?
Erick Strickland: I did not play football at the University of Nebraska, I played baseball for the Florida Marlins and went out to spring practice a few times after my senior year. It was a great experience took away the itch on how I felt about football. Football was my best sport but I enjoyed basketball the most.
CL: Who was the toughest player for you to play against in your NBA career? ES: The toughest players I didn't like guarding were the high-energy guys. Guys that ran around all the time and I knew I had to sleep well the night before playing them. Like Reggie Miller, Rip Hamilton, guys that got a lot of screens. But I also really didn't like herky jerky type of players with games like Nick Van Exel and Damon Stoudamire [TB Tangent Part II: Van Exel and Stoudamire were also lefties!].
Paul learning firsthand from the master at taking the charge
CL: What was the highlight of your Celtic career? ES: Going to the conference finals a year when the whole NBA predicted us to be at the bottom of the East. We ended up 3rd that year.
CL: How much fun was 2002 and the trip to the Eastern Conference Finals? How was it to play for Coach O'Brien?
ES: I really liked coach O'Brien, I thought he was a good Xs & Os coach for the most part. Knew how to keep the team together and focused and monitored the egos. Problem I feel he made is in the Conference Finals where he chose to go with his emotions and bringing in Tony Delk when we had during the season, won 3-1 over the Nets. My defense against Kidd keeping him out of the paint and out of running their offense helped us to do so but he didn't play me in the series really and we lost.
CL: What's your take on the NBA today, do you actively watch it? ES: I do watch it some, the game has changed and makes it a little different for me. Can't touch and be a physical as we used to be. Little softer these days than before. Need to get back to rivalries and not players. That was what made the game fun as well.
CL: So the big question, what are you up to today? ES: I am currently the assistant coach at Bellevue West High School and will be pursuing other coaching opportunities in the collegiate area as well.
CL: Anything else interesting to share? ES: I loved being a Celtic, wish that I could have stayed and saw it through. Enjoyed playing with a bunch of good guys and for a great city like Boston.
So there you have it, Erick is patrolling the sidelines at Bellevue West (his alma mater) in Bellevue, Nebraska.
An Erick Strickland Bash?! This should be an annual event!
I gotta agree with him regarding the trip to the ECF vs the Nets. Erick was the first guard off the bench for the majority of the year. And while Tony Delk was a very good player in his own regard Erick had earned his spot. Delk was a good offensive player but there were so few shots to go around with Paul and Antoine in the lineup that having a gritty defender like Strickland remaining in the rotation, might have made the difference. Coach O'Brien had a tough decision to make but the Celtics built themselves all season on their defensive tenacity. They won 3 of 4 vs the Nets in the regular season in which Erick played a pivotal role. Could he have made the difference stifling Kidd? It may have worked. I feel Kenny Anderson could've shifted over to play Kittles, with Paul, Antoine and Rogers/Battie up front (Eric Williams giving Paul and Antoine a rest). Did Anderson spend any time defending Kittles? Kerry wasn't a post-up player and while I know he was super quick, I'm thinking it might've worked. I'm still sort of surprised that after that epic Game 3 comeback the Celtics weren't able to hang on to make the Finals.
The one other characteristic that stood out for Erick: his uncanny ability to take the charge. He was the first guy I ever saw play that made an art out of taking them. People remember Glen Davis doing it well (he did) and nowadays even the Captain, Paul Pierce takes them well. But Erick was one of the first I remember at being adept at it. And whereas some guys are always accused of flopping, you never got that from watching him. His ability to draw charges always seemed legit and well-earned. A truly underrated quality of a defender and something that doesn't show up in the stat-sheet other than a simple turnover for the other team.
Celticslife thanks Erick for taking some time to answer some questions during his time in Boston. And Celtics' fans definitely reciprocate the notion in that we wish you played here longer!