Every large metropolitan city has them. The basketball playground legends. Players whose exploits on city playground courts have grown into almost mythical proportions.
A few of these players, like Connie Hawkins, Tiny Archibald, and Julius Erving went on to become NBA superstars. Most, however, never made it in the NBA.
No city is more well known for its playground legends than New York, the mecca of basketball. Names like Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston, Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, “Jumpin” Jackie Jackson, and Herman “Helicopter” Knowlings made their reputations on playground courts, including the world famous Rucker Park in Harlem.
Boston cannot compare with New York City in producing playground legends, but they have had their fair share of stars, like Patrick Ewing and PC’s own Jimmy Walker, who built up their stellar reputations at Washington Park and other Boston playground courts.
The heyday for playground basketball in Boston was the early and mid seventies when there was an explosion of talented players coming out of Boston high schools, including in 1972 with the talented “Boston Six” of Ron Lee, King Gaskins, Bobby Carrington, Carlton Smith, Will Morrison, and Billy Collins. But the best of them all was a player who came out of Dorchester High School the year before the Boston Six, Providence College’s own Steve Strother.
Strother had the whole package. He was bigger than most guards who tried to stop him and quicker than any forward. He could, and did, take it to the hole on anyone and finish. He had the type of game that electrified the crowd. In the 1980 chronicle of the playground game, “The In Your Face Basketball Book”, Strother is listed as one of the 12 best playground ballers of all time in any region.
In his article “Searching for Stro” George Hassett calls Strother “the greatest one on one player in the history of Boston. He was a 6’2 guard who could penetrate, stick the jumper, leap out of the gym, and dribble through every defense known to man.”
When Strother arrived on the PC campus in the fall of 1973 he may have had the most natural talent of any player to matriculate to Providence College. His Friar teammate Joe Hassett recalls that “Strother was a very talented player. He had moves that we hadn’t seen yet. Nobody could guard him. He could get to the basket with ease and was fun to watch.”
Unfortunately, Strother, like so many other playground legends, never lived up to his unbelievable talent at PC.
Richard Coren, author of “Providence College Basketball: The Friar Legacy” and moderator of Scoutfriars.com, had these recollections of Steve Strother’s career at Providence College:
“Steve Strother was an incredibly talented player from Roxbury who just never gelled in an organized system at the collegiate level. He came in to PC after a legendary career at Dorchester High and played on PC’s freshmen team in 1971 where he averaged 27 ppg. Unfortunately, books and classroom work never agreed with Stro, and he became academically ineligible after his freshman year. He spent his sophomore year at Rhode Island Junior College and took evening classes at PC to regain his eligibility, and he became academically eligible in December 1974.
He was an absolute playground legend who struggled in college. He played only 107 minutes as a junior and averaged 2.9 points per game, as he became known as a player who at times played selfishly and out of control. As a senior in 1975-76, he had his moments and averaged 8.0 ppg as he shared backcourt time with David Frye and Bruce Grimm (before he transferred back to Furman).
Stro’s top moment came during a 103-85 win over arch rival Holy Cross. Strother scored 26 points and handed out 8 assists and singlehandedly broke the Crusaders’ heart. Bob Cousy, who was the color analyst for Holy Cross, said of Strother during this game, ‘He’s the only guy I know who can keep both teams in the game.’
The solid 6’3 guard could score at will, but was just as likely to turn the ball over. His flashy ball handling moves, sweet shot and legendary playground style just never translated to the more tightly orchestrated college game, and he left as one of the more underachieving players in PC’s long history.”
Another memorable moment for Strother came when he was matched up against fellow Boston playground legend Ron Lee who at the time was having an outstanding freshman season at the University of Oregon. Strother scored 17 points and outplayed his Boston rival in a Friar victory.
Even though he never started a game at Providence, Strother was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the 1975 NBA Draft, becoming the only player at PC to be drafted without starting a game. Unfortunately, he was cut in training camp and his basketball dreams were coming to an end.
Strother’s exploits on the basketball court, however, will live on in basketball playground lore. Probably his best moment came in a matchup against NBA Hall of Famer, and New York playground legend, Charlie Scott. Word of the game was out, and hundreds of fans were on hand when Strother outplayed Scott so badly that Scott wound up dropkicking the basketball two courts over and storming off the court. It was just another one of Strother’s exploits where you had to shake your head and say to yourself “Stro Man Stro.”
Thanks to Joe Hassett, Richard Coren, Arthur Parks, and Olivia Pastore for their help with this article.