A staple of summer youth basketball in New York City, the Kyrie Irving-Rod Strickland Summer Basketball League has returned for its 24th season after a one-year pause. The COVID-19 pandemic halted virtually all organized recreational activity around the country last summer, so youth and adults alike were eager to re-engage in basketball leagues that have become cultural institutions since the legendary Holcombe Rucker, a playground director in Harlem for the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, founded the famed Rucker Tournament in 1950.
Held at St. Mary’s Park, located on 148th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue in the Bronx, the league, originally bearing the name of Steve Burtt, who had a storied basketball career at Iona College before playing in the NBA and overseas, has long been viewed by youth program leaders in the tri-state area as one committed to fostering the holistic development of its participants. Games take place on Saturdays and Sundays, and teams showcase their skills in a refurbished playground featuring new fiberglass backboards courtesy of the Parks Department.
“We’re not just about basketball,” said LaMarre Dyson, who has run the league since its inception. “There’s hundreds of leagues and tournaments. There’s a place for every team and program. We have non-negotiables that have been in place since we started. And we’re not going to compromise them. The kids, parents and coaches all know that.”
Brooklyn Nets All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and his godfather, Bronx native Rod Strickland, one of the NBA’s best point guards for two decades spanning the late 1980s and 1990s, model the adage that basketball should be utilized as a platform and pathway to positively impact the masses. Irving’s philanthropic endeavors, which include paying tuition for select college students attending HBCU Lincoln University, and his social and racial justice activism, are well documented. The younger Irving’s consciousness is an extension of his father, Bronx-bred and former Boston University basketball star Drederick Irving, who is a consistent, hands-on presence at the league.
Strickland, drafted in the first round by the Knicks in 1988, was elevated from being a college assistant coach, most notably at the University of Kentucky, to currently being a program manager for the NBA G League’s professional path for elite high school prospects. Throughout his playing days and now as an administrator, Strickland has been closely connected to communities in his home borough.