Jay-Z, courtside, at a Halifax Rainmen game? You never know, now that John Strickland is in town.
“I’ve known Jay-Z for 12, 13 years, back when rappin’ wasn’t his first forte,” says Strickland with a sly grin.
Strickland, a 6-8 power forward from Manhattan, professes to be friends with the international rap star. He says he attended the wedding of Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles last April; he spent the past two New Year’s Eves with him; and he is even mentioned in a couple of his songs.
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“My homey Strick told me, ‘Dude finish your breakfast,’” Jay-Z raps, early in Public Service Announcement off his 2003 The Black Album. “So that’s what I’ma do.”
The 38-year-old won’t say how he first met Jay-Z — “That’s a long story that I don’t want to get into,” he laughs — but says the lyric stems from a street-ball game in 2003.
Strickland, who earned the nickname “The Franchise” during his heyday at Harlem’s legendary Rucker Park, was playing on a team assembled by Jay-Z in a summer tournament.
The story goes, he told teammate Jamal Crawford to “finish your breakfast” after the NBA star missed a wide-open layup.
“I’m a slick-talkin’ dude from New York,” Strickland says. “Two nights later, Jay-Z calls me down to the studio … He says, ‘Yo Strick, you just made the album.’”
Could he get Jay-Z to Halifax for a game?
“That’ll be tough, but I could try to do somethin’ if we get to a championship,” Strickland says.
Strickland is a minor-league journeyman who has made more than 40 stops since playing his last college game in 1995. He attended a New York Knicks’ training camp in 1996 and played in the NBA D-League; he has been street-ball teammates with NBAers Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin; and he claims to have talked trash with Shaquille O’Neal at Rucker Park.
Strickland calls himself a “crafty veteran,” and the Rainmen expect him to shore up their defence and rebounding. But fans may be more intrigued by the former Harlem Globetrotter’s reputation for unpredictable on-court antics.
He says he’s pulled out a cellphone in a game and even jumped into the stands after hitting a basket and asked a fan, “How did you like that? You ever see anything like that?”
In other words, expect the unexpected when the Rainmen host the Buffalo Stampede on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“I go with the flow … I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” he says. “But the fans are gonna be very entertained. They’re definitely gonna get their money’s worth.”